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Decide Whether an Osteopathic (DO) Medical School is Right for You

Medical school applicants must decide whether to focus only on MD schools or DO schools, or to consider applying to both allopathic and osteopathic medical schools. For some applicants, whether a program leads to an MD or DO is of little importance; they apply to whichever schools provide them with the best chance of admission.

For others, the distinction between DO and MD is critical, and they strongly prefer one type over the other. By exploring both allopathic and osteopathic medicine and evaluating your educational preferences and career goals, you can determine whether you’re a better fit at one type of program or another.

If you plan to apply to osteopathic schools, you need to ensure that you’re a strong candidate for these programs by demonstrating a genuine interest in osteopathic medicine and an understanding of its underlying principles and philosophy. DO schools are looking for applicants who have taken the time to look into osteopathic medicine and have made an informed decision about applying to their programs.

How to determine whether osteopathic medicine is right for you

Premedical students have different reasons for applying to osteopathic medical schools. Some have been exposed to osteopathic medicine early on, decided they like the osteopathic approach to medicine, and planned from the outset to apply to DO schools along with, or rather than, MD schools.

However, other premedical students start out focused solely on allopathic schools but realize they may not be competitive for admission to these schools and investigate DO schools as an alternative. These students may have little familiarity with osteopathic medicine and sometimes decide to apply to DO schools at the last minute after minimal investigation of the profession.

Although a hasty decision can have a happy ending, doing your research long before you plan to apply is much less risky; you can assess whether osteopathic programs are a good fit before jumping into the admissions process. Some questions to ask yourself as you decide whether to pursue admission to DO schools are

  • Have I thoroughly researched osteopathic medical education?

  • Do I believe I would be happy at an osteopathic medical school?

  • Do I understand how MDs and DOs are the same and different?

  • Have I spoken with osteopathic physicians to understand potential benefits and drawbacks to being a DO?

Students interested in primary care are sometimes more comfortable pursuing osteopathic degrees knowing that attaining a residency in these specialties is less competitive and that DO schools tend to emphasize primary care.

The decision to apply to DO schools isn’t one that you make in a rush. If you think there’s even a small chance that you’re interested in applying to DO schools, start investigating them at least a year before you plan to apply.

As you look into osteopathic medicine, keep an open mind, consider what you want from a medical education and career, and then make the choice that’s best for you.

How to become a strong DO applicant

Applicants who show that they’ve thoughtfully explored osteopathic medicine and whose goals and interests in medicine align with what DO schools offer are most competitive for osteopathic programs. Schools can usually tell when an applicant has applied to DO programs only as an afterthought, because his clinical experiences, his letters of recommendation, and other elements of his application reflect that he’s had minimal or even no exposure to osteopathic medicine.

Some of the ways in which you can make yourself a strong candidate for admission to an osteopathic school are by doing the following:

  • Shadowing or volunteering in settings with osteopathic physicians: Not only does spending time with DOs allow you to determine whether you’re a good fit for osteopathic medicine, but it also demonstrates to DO schools that you’ve invested time and effort in exploring the field.

  • Obtaining a letter of recommendation from a DO: A very small number of osteopathic medical schools require a letter of recommendation from an osteopathic physician. Even for schools that don’t require a DO letter, having such a recommendation is an asset to your application.

  • Doing community service in underserved areas: Many DO schools are committed to training physicians who will work in rural or other underserved areas. Students who volunteer in underserved areas demonstrate a commitment to serving those in need.

  • Writing a personal statement and secondary applications that reflect a specific interest in osteopathic medicine: Application materials for osteopathic schools should be tailored to these programs and convey the reasons you want to attend a DO school.

Taking these steps helps make you competitive for admission to an osteopathic school; however, like allopathic schools, osteopathic schools also evaluate your academic record and MCAT scores when making admissions decisions.

Data from the AACOM placed the average MCAT score of DO students entering med school in 2011 at just over 26.5 and the average GPA slightly below 3.5. The most competitive applicants for DO schools present a well-rounded application that demonstrates academic preparation, exploration of the field, and excellent interpersonal skills.

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