The Difference Between MD and DO Doctors
Choosing a medical school involves choosing between two types of degree programs: Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) or Doctor of Medicine (MD). But what is the difference between MD and DO doctors? It’s one calling. Two paths. The difference is in the philosophy.
When choosing between a DO vs MD degree, here's what pre-med students need to know:
DO vs. MD: Similarities
Physicians earning either degree have much in common, both in terms of training, education, and practice. Most pre-med students follow the same undergraduate path—obtaining a bachelor's degree, completing pre-med coursework and taking the MCAT. Then they attend four years of medical school, followed by a residency program that ranges from three to seven years, depending on the specialty.
Both DO ad MD physicians are licensed by the same state licensing boards and held to the same requirements for practicing medicine. Both can prescribe medications and treat patients in all 50 states. Most medical schools offer the traditional MD. However, there are 34 accredited colleges of osteopathic medicine in the United States. These colleges are accredited to deliver instruction at 51 teaching locations in 32 states.
DO vs. MD: Differences
Many students attend traditional (or allopathic) medical schools that offer an MD. However, osteopathic medical schools are growing in popularity. Reporting on the most recent annual data, the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM) says osteopathic medical schools educate more than 20% of all medical students in the United States.
Students in both programs receive the same training. However, osteopathic schools have a stronger focus on alternative therapies, holistic medicine and disease prevention. As the American Osteopathic Association explains, students "receive extra training in the musculoskeletal system, which is the body's interconnected system of nerves, muscles, and bones. DOs use this knowledge to perform osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT), a series of hands-on techniques used to help diagnose illness or injury and facilitate the body's natural tendency toward self-healing."
Learning OMT requires students at osteopathic schools to complete an additional 200 hours of coursework beyond the general medical school curriculum. While students pursuing both allopathic and osteopathic degrees take the same state board exams, DO students also take the Comprehensive Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX) while MD students take the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE).
At the end of the day, when you walk into the patient room and close the door, the difference between DO and MD doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter to the patient what letters are after your name—you are simply a physician. One calling. Two paths. The difference is in the philosophy. DO doctors are trained to listen and partner with their patients to help them get healthy and stay well. Because when you believe in taking care of people—not patients—decisions are easier. When you strive to take everything into account—mind, body, and spirit—you know you’re doing it right. When you believe that wellness calls for a whole-body approach and prevention makes all the difference, you’re ready for the future of healthcare. When you Choose DO, you receive an education that champions wellness and prevention—because good health shouldn’t begin and end with a test result.