I am a miracle made up of particles and in this existence I'll stay persistent and I'll make a difference and I will have lived it - Medicine for the People

DO or MD?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

*Disclaimer: these are just my opinions, I am not trying to disparage or endorse either MD or DO schools.

The short answer is that neither one is objectively better; you have to choose for yourself which track will better fit your learning style and personal philosophy of medicine. The long answer is a bit more complicated. The thing is, there are many professions nowadays that allow you to practice medicine on a very involved level without actually becoming a doctor. You can be a nurse practitioner (NP), a registered nurse (RN) or a physician assistant (PA) to list a few. If you just want to help people but aren’t sure how, it’s really important to take the time to think about what you value. Is it taking care of patients? Because then you might want to look at nursing programs. Is it getting done with school quickly but being able to do much of what a doctor does? Then you may want to be a physician assistant. But if you’re sure you want to be a doctor, you should educate yourself on what sets a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) and a Doctor of Allopathic Medicine (MD) apart.

The difference between becoming a DO or an MD is mainly in the approach to medicine and the school curriculum/structure. DOs believe that “you are more than just a sum of your body parts” which gives rise to a “whole body” view of medicine. They focus on preventative care and are specially trained in understanding the musculoskeletal system and the interconnectedness of the body. Here is a fantastic website with a lot of further information on osteopathic medicine. MDs on the other hand typically focus on more mainstream methods of treating patients, including drug therapy, surgery, etc. That’s not to say that being an MD means you can’t use a holistic approach, it’s just a trademark of DOs.

When it comes to applying to schools there are some important things to keep in mind. There are fewer DO schools than MD schools in the US. The typical age of entering students is 26 for osteopathic schools versus 24 for allopathic. Additionally, osteopathic schools have a reputation for being slightly easier to get into because they look at the applicant overall rather than just their scores. Finally, there has been a lot of effort over the past few years to integrate many of the holistic models of patient care from osteopathy into allopathic curriculum. Some allopathic schools may very well appear similar to osteopathic schools so definitely do your research.

I personally like the holistic view that is employed by osteopathic schools but have chosen to apply to allopathic schools primarily because I believe that specializing is more encouraged and feasible as an MD. DOs tend to go into family practice or internal medicine because they are the specialties that are most targeted by the curriculum. The boards that are taken by DO students are different from the USMLEs that are required by many fellowships  and competitive programs. While it is possible to study and take them on your own, from the personal accounts I’ve read, it’s a lot more difficult taking the step exams as a DO student because the curriculum at their school doesn’t “teach to” the USMLEs.

Further, while I think it’s important to take a “whole body” approach to healing, I appreciate new innovations in medicine and love research to the point where I am not as interested in learning special body manipulation techniques (OMM) as much as I am in being involved with generating a new EHR system or studying new therapies for chronic illnesses. 

I think that at the end of the day, the amount of information you learn as either a DO or an MD will set you up well for a career in medicine, but for me, I think becoming an MD will allow a broader scope and better advantages to be a competitive student. I have always loved pushing myself and getting involved with challenging projects. I love developing relationships with people and want that to be a part of my life as a doctor but I think it’s also important for me to keep moving and learning and that as an MD, I will be given more opportunities to pursue my passions. On the other hand, I know several people who don't want to get involved with research, aren't interested in surgery or specialized medicine, and want to have regular hours and work with the same patients every day. For them, a DO school would be an excellent choice because it takes them to exactly where they want to be and they don’t have to worry about missing out on anything because of the two letters after their name.

Osteopathic, Allopathic, Medicine, MD, DO


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