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The Difference Between MDs and DOs

What’s the difference between MDs and DOs?  Both are fully licensed physicians who diagnose and treat patients but allopathic medical schools grant the MD degree whereas osteopathic medical schools grant the DO degree.

Osteopathy began in the early 19th century and incorporates a holistic philosophy emphasizing prevention and the body’s innate ability to heal itself. Osteopathy originally used the manipulation of bones and the musculoskeletal system (known as osteopathic manipulative treatment or OMT) to diagnose and treat illness but this is now used mainly as a treatment for musculoskeletal disorders. Despite the rapid expansion of DO schools across the country (there are currently 34 osteopathic schools and more seem to be opening in quick succession) osteopathic physicians are still in the minority, consisting of a little over 10% of the physician population in the US. In the Midwest, where there are more DO schools, there are more DOs in the population.

Osteopathic schools have a history of producing more primary care physicians than allopathic schools: about 60% of osteopathic graduates pursue primary care and there is a strong emphasis on preventive care in osteopathic medicine. Allopathic physicians (MDs) have historically opted to pursue more specialized fields of medicine, although there is now a greater emphasis on primary care since there is such a high need for it across the US.

A recent decision to unify the accreditation process for MD and DO residency training programs signifies the increasing similarity among the two groups. Both MDs and DOs will be held to the same standards, as decided by the Accreditation Council of Graduate Medical Education.  The American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine is the voice of DO education and the Association of American Medical Colleges serves in a similar capacity for MD education. AACOMAS is the centralized application service for DO schools and AMCAS provides the same service for MD applicants. To learn more about what DOs do and to see them in practice, the osteopathic organization has a database of osteopathic physicians willing to have prospective DOs spend time with them; click the link to search for a DO by state.

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consulting

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