I have found that when I suggest that students apply to both M.D. and D.O. schools, they often don’t know the difference or have a poor understanding of one or the other. In this post, I will explore the differences between the two types of U.S. doctors and what that means for you as a pre-med and med school applicant.

First of all, what do these letters stand for and what do they mean?

M.D. = Doctor of Medicine (allopathic). This is the general, more common type of medical doctorate degree that is awarded upon completion of allopathic medical school in the U.S.

D.O. = Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine. This is the slightly less common type of medical doctorate degree awarded upon completion of osteopathic medical school in the U.S.

So, what’s the difference?

Both are official medical doctorate degrees that allow you to practice legally in the U.S. Because of that, they are similar in many ways by allowing the same privileges. However, there are several important differences to note.

Allopathic medicine has traditionally been focused on the diagnosis and treatment of disease. Osteopathic medicine is “holistic” medicine, where more focus is placed on the patient as a whole rather than on specific symptoms. Osteopathic philosophy integrates all systems into treatment plans and places emphasis on the role of the musculoskeletal system in the treatment of disease. D.O.s are taught manipulation techniques as a part of their regular medical education. This is the main difference between their medical education aside from the differing philosophy.

Both M.D.s and D.O.s are seen in all specialties of medicine. They are evaluated by the same license boards and are often integrated into the same residency programs.

What does this mean for you as a pre-med?

D.O. schools often get a negative label because their standards for acceptance are generally lower than that of M.D. schools. Just because their acceptance standards are slightly lower does not make then any less valuable as medical schools. Their graduates enter the field as great physicians. I have met and interacted with many D.O.s who were phenomenal doctors. That’s what matters in the end, right? Applying to both M.D. and D.O. schools is good for some applicants, especially those who are borderline competitive or who have lower than average numbers. If you consider yourself a lower-rank applicant, it would be wise to apply to both M.D. and D.O. schools.

Some people find that they actually prefer the osteopathic philosophy over the allopathic philosophy when it comes to medical practice. If this is so, you would be more well-suited in a D.O. school. It is important to “fit” at the medical school which you attend, because although the ultimate goal is the same, each school has a unique approach to educating their students. You want to be in an environment where you really believe in what you’re doing. Otherwise, you won’t be happy.

The requirements for applying to both M.D. and D.O. schools are identical except that different application services are used (M.D.- AMCAS, D.O.-AACOMAS). Each application service comes with its own set of specifics. I know many pre-meds who applied to both types of schools and were successful. In terms of extracurriculars, though, the expectation is generally the same for both programs.

Making the choice

It is important to be informed when you are preparing to apply to medical school. Knowing the difference between M.D. and D.O. will allow you to make an informed decision about which type of school you wish to apply to and ultimately attend. I advise students to find tours of both M.D. and D.O. schools and speak to the students and faculty at both places to get to see and know the difference for themselves. Be realistic when you are applying. Either way, whether M.D. or D.O., you will be graduated as a physician and your dream will be fulfilled.

Any further questions? Leave them in the comment section below!


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