For individuals aspiring to become physicians, deciding whether to pursue the path of an MD or a DO is pivotal. These two distinct routes, leading to careers as allopathic and osteopathic physicians, respectively, share fundamental similarities yet exhibit notable differences in their approaches to healthcare.

It’s crucial to recognize that once you spend around 12 years to attain one of these esteemed degrees, obtaining the other is impossible within the established framework. Therefore, the choice between DO and MD demands careful consideration, necessitating an understanding of their unique philosophies and practices to determine which aligns best with your professional aspirations and personal values. 

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So, read on and learn more about the two choices that can set the course for your medical future.

What’s the Difference Between an MD and a DO?


MD (doctor of medicine) and DO (doctor of osteopathic medicine) are both licensed physicians, and as such, they share many similarities in their training and professional duties. However, MD and DO have a key difference regarding their philosophical approach.

MDs practice allopathic medicine, also known as conventional or mainstream medicine. This means that they consider the patient as a whole. Therefore, their approach may be more symptom-focused, primarily emphasizing addressing specific medical issues using tools like X-rays, prescription drugs, and surgery.

On the other hand, DOs also use conventional medical techniques, but they have an additional focus on holistic health and prevention. They tend to have a broader perspective on health, emphasizing preventive care and considering the interconnectedness of physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

However, both types of doctors are equally qualified to diagnose, treat, and perform medical procedures within their respective areas of expertise.

Becoming an MD vs. a DO

Regardless of the type, generally, becoming a doctor entails the same educational and training path. It necessitates acquiring and completing the following:

Below, we’ll explore some other similarities and differences in the education and training of DO and MD professionals, focusing on key aspects such as admission prerequisites, training programs, licensing examinations, and more to gain an understanding of the distinct approaches and qualifications associated with these two esteemed medical degrees.

MD vs. DO admission requirements

Admission requirements for MD and DO programs share many similarities. Both pathways strongly emphasize prerequisite science courses. For example, prerequisites for our school include courses in biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, and English, as well as an optional mathematics course.

Additionally, candidates for both MD and DO programs are evaluated based on factors beyond academics, including extracurricular activities, letters of recommendation, and a personal statement. Our Admissions Committee may also request TOEFL or IELTS scores or interview applicants if there are concerns that their English proficiency could hinder their academic performance.

Although the admission requirements between MD and DO programs are pretty similar, there is one difference: DO programs typically highlight experiences related to holistic health and community service when evaluating their applicant, reflecting the broader approach of osteopathic medicine.

MD vs. DO training programs

While both MD and DO training programs equip aspiring physicians with a solid foundation in medical knowledge and clinical skills, there are some differences in the structure of each program. Firstly, MD programs are typically accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME) and concentrate primarily on conventional medical education. Such programs place a strong emphasis on scientific approaches in order to diagnose and treat various medical conditions.

On the other hand, DO programs are accredited by the Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation (COCA) and integrate osteopathic principles and practice with conventional medical education. These programs specifically focus on osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT), a therapy for conditions that affect every system in the body, including the musculoskeletal system, immune system, digestive system, and nervous system. 

OMT works by realigning the body and restoring balance to bones and muscles, allowing the patient’s entire body to function better. This approach is in line with the holistic approach of DOs.

MD vs. DO: Licensing exams

Both MDs and DOs are required to pass a relevant licensing examination in order to be eligible to practice medicine independently in the United States. However, the type of examination they must complete differs.

MDs must take the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE), which assesses their ability to apply medical knowledge and principles in clinical scenarios through a three-step examination. Generally, students take Step 1 of USMLE at the end of their second year, Step 2 at the end of the third or sometime in the fourth year, and Step 3 after graduating.

In comparison, DOs take the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX), which evaluates their proficiency in osteopathic principles and practices in addition to standard medical knowledge. The COMLEX is also an examination series consisting of three levels all students must pass to become licensed DOs. Students typically take level 1 near the end of their first or just after their second year of the DO program. Level 2 is taken during or at the end of their fourth year, and level 3 is completed after their DO program.

MD vs. DO: Residency requirements

After medical school comes residency, a crucial phase when aspiring physicians begin a rigorous stage of hands-on training. This period, which can last from 3 to 7 years, encompasses a supervised clinical training program designed to help recent medical school graduates refine their medical skills and acquire specialized expertise within a specific field of medicine. 

These programs are integral to medical education, allowing doctors to apply their theoretical knowledge in real-world clinical settings, make critical decisions, and develop their clinical judgment under the guidance of experienced attending physicians.

The process of entering a residency program is similar for both MD and DO graduates. They participate in the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP), commonly referred to as “The Match,” where they submit applications to various residency programs and attend interviews. Then, the system pairs medical graduates with available residency positions based on their preferences and program directors’ preferences.

MD and DO graduates compete for positions in the same residency programs, and both types of graduates are eligible for the same range of specialties. However, DO graduates have the opportunity to pursue residency programs that place a specific emphasis on osteopathic principles and practices.

MD vs. DO: Specialties

Both MDs and DOs can specialize in various areas of medicine after completing their general medical education. In fact, there is overlap between them in several specialties, including emergency medicine, surgery, obstetrics and gynecology, psychiatry, and anesthesiology.

This diversity of options highlights the extensive opportunities within the field of medicine. Consequently, deciding which specialty to pursue is highly personal and related to the individual’s passions and career objectives. This freedom of choice empowers physicians, regardless of whether they aspire to be MDs or DOs, to find their niche and contribute meaningfully to the healthcare landscape.

MD vs. DO: Which One Is Better?

When it comes to determining whether an MD or a DO degree is “better,” there isn’t just one correct answer as it is a subjective choice and depends on personal preferences and career aspirations. Both MDs and DOs undergo thorough medical education and training, making them equally qualified to practice medicine. The decision between the two comes down to personal values, beliefs, and the specific philosophies of each profession.

Individuals must research and comprehend the philosophies of both professions to determine which aligns better with their values and goals.

MD vs. DO: Which One Should You Choose? 

Keep in mind that both MDs and DOs are equally capable and respected in the medical community. Hence, the decision ultimately comes down to what aligns best with the individual’s values and goals. For example, an MD program might be the better choice for you if you’re someone who:

  • Is interested in research-focused career paths within the medical field.
  • Prefers a conventional, science-focused approach to medicine
  • Seeks to practice in areas where MDs are traditionally more prevalent, such as family medicine or pediatrics.
  • Places a higher priority on gaining access to specific residency programs or medical facilities with a strong affiliation with MD programs.

On the other hand, it might be a more fitting choice for you to pursue a DO program if you:

  • Value a holistic approach to healthcare, considering the interconnectedness of mind, body, and emotions.
  • Are intrigued by specialties that incorporate osteopathic principles, holistic health, preventive care, and osteopathic manipulative treatment.
  • Aspire to practice in settings or communities where DOs are traditionally more prominent or where there is a preference for physicians with expertise in osteopathic medicine.

The Bottom Line 

Overall, both the MD and DO paths present exceptional opportunities, with the decision between these distinguished degrees relying on individual values and professional aspirations.

If you’re ready to progress further in your pursuit of becoming a physician, we encourage you to explore our MD program. Here, you’ll have the chance to access outstanding education and resources that will empower you in shaping the future of healthcare through dedicated and compassionate medical practice.


Is a DO higher than an MD? 

No, DOs and MDs are equivalent degrees, leading to physician licensure.

Is a DO more difficult than an MD?

No, the difficulty of the programs can vary but is not inherently determined by the degree but rather by the specific curriculum, teaching methods, and individual students’ learning styles and aptitudes.

Can you be both an MD and a DO?

No, individuals can only pursue one of these degrees. Pursuing both degrees simultaneously is not possible, and once an individual has earned either an MD or a DO degree, they are considered a fully qualified physician.

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