Can a DO Be a Surgeon?

  • /Reviewed by: Amy Rontal, MD
  • At Med School Tutors, we receive a lot of questions about the value and opportunities for students pursuing a Doctor of Medicine (MD) versus a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO).

    A lot of these questions pertain to medical specialties and which specialties are available to DOs. The good news is that you can enter most, if not all, specialties with a DO degree.

    But can DOs become surgeons?

    Yes! DO doctors can absolutely become surgeons. In fact, the American College of Osteopathic Surgeons holds an annual conference for DO surgeons.


    Here’s what the journey from an osteopathic medical school to post-residency fellowship has been like so far:

    As I finish my last 6 months of general surgery residency and start preparation to begin my cardiothoracic fellowship, I reflect back on all the decisions I made to get to this point.

    As a brand-new immigrant to the United States, I was still unaccustomed to the idea of osteopathic medicine and the DO degree until I had a chance to work with an osteopathic surgeon who was moonlighting as an emergency physician. Working with him galvanized my interest in osteopathic medicine while reaffirming my strong interest in a surgical career.

    As a result, I applied and was accepted to a DO school. While the first two years were the same as any other medical school would provide, the 3rd and 4th year clinical rotations at my school gave me a lot more freedom. I was able to dedicate more time and allow more exposure to my desired specialty as long as the core rotations were fulfilled. I was able to spend more than my allotted time working directly under a general surgeon during my 3rd year. This surgeon wrote me a letter of recommendation, which then helped me obtain interviews for my 4th year residency match.

    As a part of the DO school, and therefore as a part of a close-knit community, I was also able to reach out to previous graduates of my medical school, who had applied to general surgery residency, for guidance.

    My experience during the four years of osteopathic medical school (especially my ability to perform OMT — Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment) helped me stand out amongst the other interviewees during my audition rotations and residency interviews.

    Surgical residency has changed significantly over time, with 80 hour work week restrictions and a focus on resident wellness that previously did not exist. As such, surgical residency is starting to gain more interest and is attracting a lot more applicants.

    While I do believe that your performance during medical school and your scores on standardized tests have a significant impact on your likelihood of matching, I do not believe that going to a specific school — allopathic or osteopathic — has much of an influence on your plans of being able to match to a surgical specialty.

    I am proud of be an osteopathic physician. And while I continue to advocate for osteopathic medicine, I do not believe that merely the type of degree, be it DO or MD, affects your likelihood of being a future surgeon, especially in this day and age with the combined match and increased awareness about osteopathic medicine.

    In my experience, the true secret of matching in any residency is a combination of hard work, dedication, a likable personality and an ability to contour and learn, amongst other key factors.

    If you are interested in a surgical residency, give it your best effort without worrying about the school you choose to attend.