Compare Osteopathic and Allopathic Medical Schools and D.O./M.D. Degrees

If you’re considering medical school, your options include an M.D. (doctor of medicine) or D.O. (doctor of osteopathic medicine) degree. Students in osteopathic medical schools represent an ever-growing population, comprising more than 20% of all medical students.

Despite the ever-growing presence of DOs, many people, including premedical students, are unsure of exactly what a DO is, sometimes confusing these doctors with chiropractors or other types of alternative practitioners.

First and foremost, DOs are physicians, and both MDs and DOs are eligible to practice medicine in every U.S. state. However, osteopathic medicine has some distinctive approaches and philosophies in addition to allopathic education. By finding out more about osteopathic medicine, you can determine whether an osteopathic school is a good option for you.

Principles and philosophy of osteopathic medicine

The osteopathic approach includes a holistic view of patient care that addresses the physical, psychological, social, and emotional aspects of health and emphasizes the interdependency among the various systems of the body in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of disease. Some of the principles that underlie the osteopathic approach were promoted by Dr. Andrew Taylor Still, who founded the institution that eventually became the first osteopathic medical school.

Today, osteopathic physicians practice medicine in much the same way as allopathic physicians. Both DOs and MDs work as primary care physicians or specialists, diagnosing and treating patients as well as providing preventive care.

However, the major difference between allopathic and osteopathic physicians is that DOs are trained to perform osteopathic manipulative medicine (OMM), also known as osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT). OMM is a hands-on method of diagnosing and treating musculoskeletal disorders that isn’t taught in allopathic medical schools but is a required part of the curriculum at DO schools.

Osteopathic medical students study OMM in addition to the subjects that all medical students must learn, such as physiology, anatomy, pharmacology, and clinical skills. OMM is an extra technique that DOs use in patient care if they choose. They’re still fully equipped to use other diagnostic and treatment methods just as allopathic physicians are.

Osteopathic medical training also typically emphasizes primary care and service to medically underserved communities. However, as an osteopathic physician you can pursue any specialty you choose, so becoming a DO isn’t synonymous with committing to primary care.

You should be aware, however, that obtaining a residency position can be more challenging in some specialties if you’re an osteopathic medical student

Compare allopathic and osteopathic medical educations

The basic structure of MD and DO schools is the same. Typically, students complete two years of preclinical studies and then two years of clinical rotations, at which point they’re awarded their degrees. After medical school, graduates of DO schools proceed through residency training, and perhaps a fellowship, before becoming attending physicians.

Although most of the medical school curriculum is the same for both DO and MD students, only osteopathic medical students study OMM.

Another difference is that unlike most allopathic medical schools, many osteopathic medical schools don’t have their own teaching hospitals. Students at these schools may need to travel to complete their clinical rotations at other institutions with which the school has an affiliation or agreement. In some cases, students may need to relocate during part or all of their clinical years because rotation sites are distant from the medical school.

At some osteopathic medical schools, rotations take place mostly at community hospitals or smaller teaching hospitals rather than at large teaching institutions. As a result, students may have the opportunity to work primarily with an attending physician instead of being lowest on a hierarchy that includes interns, residents, and fellows.

The disadvantage is that the range of cases you see may be narrower than at a larger facility. You also may not receive as much exposure to the role of a medical resident if you’re working primarily with the attending rather than as part of a larger team.

When you’re exploring osteopathic medical schools, make sure you find out the location and type of facilities where students do their clinical rotations so that you can weigh this information as you make your decision.

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