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Comparing an MD vs a DO

  • by Rachel Lorenc
  • Feb 15, 2022
  • MCAT Blog, Med School Admissions, Pre-Med Support

Imagine it’s twenty years from now and you’re flying back from vacation. Just as you drift off, you hear the flight attendant over the PA frantically ask if anyone on board is a doctor. Your eyes snap open–it’s here! The moment Grey’s Anatomy, House, The Resident, Chicago Med, and… about 12 years of training prepared you for: the inflight emergency where you get to proudly hold up your badge (that you brought on vacation? Ok, you do you) and proclaim “Yes! I am a doctor!” Do you think the next logical question for the flight attendant to ask is, “what kind?”

Ok, maybe. But probably just to make sure you’re not a Ph.D. in paleontology. In an emergency, or in day-to-day life, the letters after your last name don’t make a huge difference. So, if your goal is to become a doctor, you’re in luck: there are several ways to get there. In this article, I’ll explore some of the differences between the more well-known “MD – Medical Doctor” versus the just as competent “DO – Doctor of Osteopathy.” At the end of the day, a doctor is a doctor, but variations in medical school curriculum, research focus, and approach to care are important to know about when you’re considering what schools to apply to. 

First, let’s make one thing abundantly clear: DOs and MDs go through the same residency programs and must take the same board exams in order to become doctors. MD or DO, you’ll still have to take the MCAT, pass all of your medical school exams, and pass equivalent licensing exams. Then, MDs and DOs both are able to enter whatever specialty they desire, diagnose the same illnesses, perform the same surgeries and provide patient care to the best of their abilities. The major difference between MDs and DOs is their philosophies regarding medicine. Overall, MD schools emphasize an allopathic view of medicine, which means medicine is driven by the newest research-based trials, and school is focused on data-driven care. DOs, on the other hand, take a more holistic approach to medicine. DO curriculums strongly emphasize the partnership between patient and physician, and the use of the body’s intrinsic ability to heal. 

Curriculum

The MD and DO curriculums are very similar, consisting of both preclinical, basic science courses followed by a clinical period known as “clerkship.” The major difference is that DO students spend an additional 200 hours learning musculoskeletal manipulation (known as OMT – Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment) where students practice physical manipulation of the body or tissue as treatment. DO schools are also more likely to accept students from nontraditional backgrounds, such as individuals making a career change and are generally older.

Residency Match

DO schools match seniors at a rate of 89.1%, and MD programs boast a matching rate of 92.8%. While on the surface, this difference seems insignificant, it is worth paying attention to what specialties each program matches most successfully into. More DO students tend to go into primary care and practice as family physicians, internists, and pediatricians. MD students are more likely to specialize and have a significantly higher match rate when one considers competitive specialties like neurosurgery and vascular surgery, where MD students match into these programs at a rate of 73.6% and 69.1%. Unfortunately, DO applicants match comparatively less frequently with a rate of 42.9% and 23.1%, respectively. Beyond residency, this does have an impact on the average salaries of MDs vs DOs. MDs, who tend to specialize and work in urban settings tend to earn more than their rural counterparts, though not always.

Ultimately, prospective doctors need to consider which philosophy of medicine they prefer to practice. Are you a nerd for clinical trials and follow the latest JAMA news? Do you like the idea of being an expert in one specific field? Maybe consider an MD program. Do you value a more holistic approach to healthcare and want to practice medicine in a way that emphasizes aspects of preventive care, nutrition and PT? It might be worth it to look into DO programs. At the end of the day, you can get anywhere you want through whatever path you take. Many students apply to both types of programs and end up choosing the school that, after learning about the curriculum, speaking with faculty and students, just feels right, no matter what letters come after your last name. 

No matter what path you choose, MD or DO, when you’re ready to take your prep to the next level, check out our Blueprint MCAT Online and Live Online Courses, which were created by experts with 524+ MCAT scores, including MDs and PhDs. We also offer MCAT practice exams known for being the most representative of the actual AAMC. If you need more individualized attention, our MCAT tutors provide private MCAT tutoring, personalized to address your unique needs and weaknesses.