The path to becoming a physician is anything but tedious. Throughout the journey, you’ll have to make a myriad of decisions, with one of the most pivotal ones being choosing between the allopathic (MD) or the osteopathic (DO) route. Even though an intriguing option, the DO route is less popular and less is known around it. In this guide, we’ll shed light on the distinct path of becoming an osteopathic physician. From academic prerequisites to the aspects that make pursuing a career as a DO worth it, we’ll explore the essential components you must navigate to unlock the doors to DO medical school admissions. 

Understanding the Basics

While medical doctors (MD) undergo training in allopathic medicine, focusing on diagnosing and treating diseases through remedies such as surgery or drugs, physicians with a DO degree receive training in osteopathic medicine, which applies a holistic approach to understanding and addressing diseases. DOs focus on:

  • Preventing diseases;
  • Understanding how lifestyle and environmental factors impact a patient’s health and quality of life;
  • Determining how interrelated systems within the human body bring healing. 

What Is a DO?

Osteopathic doctors are licensed physicians who have earned their degrees from a U.S. osteopathic medical school and adopted a holistic approach to healthcare. DOs assess various aspects of the patient’s life, including their diet, lifestyle, environment, activity level, exercise habits, sleep habits, mental and physical health, and stress levels. In their practice, DOs incorporate spinal manipulation, massage therapy, and chiropractic techniques, in addition to conventional tools and methods. Moreover, they adhere to four core beliefs or tenets, which are:

  • The human body can self-regulate, self-heal, and remain healthy.
  • A person is composed of a mind, body, and spirit.
  • Function and structure are mutually interconnected.
  • Rational treatment is grounded upon a clear understanding of the three principles mentioned above.

In general, the duties and responsibilities of DO physicians include:

  • Taking medical histories and updating medical charts;
  • Ordering tests to diagnose patients;
  • Emphasizing preventive medicine, taking a proactive approach to medical issues;
  • Prescribing medications;
  • Recommending treatment plans;
  • Answering questions and discussing healthcare concerns with patients;
  • Employing manipulative techniques on the musculoskeletal system to relieve pain and enhance patients’ quality of life.

DO School Admission Requirements

To secure admission to a DO school, you need to meet the specific requirements of your targeted school and submit an application through AACOMAS. Osteopathic medical schools seek applicants with strong communication and interpersonal skills, a history of community service, an interest in extracurricular activities, a solid understanding of osteopathic medicine, and clinical experience. Moreover, some states, affiliated hospitals, and clinical institutions require criminal background checks for applicants and students undergoing clinical rotations at their facilities. Lastly, as part of the admissions process, you must submit letters of recommendation crafted by healthcare professionals or professors who have observed and can attest to your capabilities. Below you can find the key requirements you need to fulfill as an aspiring doctor of osteopathic medicine.  

1. Education

The first step on your journey to a DO school is earning a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. There are no specific requirements for your undergraduate major, allowing individuals who don’t have a science or health-related background to still apply to a DO school. Pursuing a master’s or a Ph.D. before submitting your application is optional but not mandatory.

On the other hand, completion of prerequisite coursework is mandatory for admission to such a school. The required premedical coursework varies depending on the school but generally includes:

  • One year of biology;
  • One year of physics;
  • Two years of chemistry;
  • One year of English composition.

2. MCAT

Completing the MCAT is a crucial requirement for your application to osteopathic medical schools as it helps demonstrate your preparedness for the demanding medical school coursework. The exam, lasting around seven and a half hours, is divided into four sections:

  • Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems;
  • Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems;
  • Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior;
  • Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills.

With the total score ranging from 472-528, the mean MCAT scores for entering students in 2022 were 504.77. While this serves as a benchmark, you should aim for a higher score in order to increase your chances of admission. 

3. Licensing Examinations

While MDs undergo the three-step USMLE licensing examination, DOs must successfully complete the three-part COMLEX-USA examination administered by the National Board of Osteopathic Medical Examiners (NBOME). The COMLEX-USA serves as an assessment of your osteopathic medical knowledge, clinical skills, and other competencies necessary to succeed as an osteopathic physician. Passing each level is a prerequisite for advancing to the next exam stage. The sequence of the COMLEX-USA exams is as follows:

  • Level 1: Taken after completing the second year of medical school;
  • Level 2: Taken during the third or fourth years of medical school;
  • Level 3: Taken during residency.

4. Residency Training 

Residency training is a critical part of the road to becoming a DO and your professional development. It provides you with hands-on experience and specialized training and prepares you for independent practice of medicine. Residency programs for DOs can take three to seven years, depending on the specialty. For example, family medicine residencies usually take three years, whereas radiology requires four years. All DO residencies expect you to complete one year of internship before proceeding to a specialty.

While 57% of DOs opt for primary care fields, there are opportunities to specialize in various areas such as pediatrics, emergency medicine, surgery, geriatrics, psychiatry, or OB/GYN. Keep in mind that certain DO schools favor applicants with connections to particular regions or communities or those who have gained work experience in certain areas of medicine. Therefore, carefully examine each school’s residency requirements and preferences.

5. Board Certification

Board certification serves as a badge of excellence and professionalism, indicating that you meet the nationally recognized standards for competency in your specialty. As a DO, you must be licensed to practice medicine in the state of your choice. Attaining board certification in a medical specialty or subspecialty involves meeting specific eligibility criteria and successfully passing an examination. You can obtain board certification through the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) or the American Osteopathic Association (AOA).

Maintaining board certifications demonstrates your commitment to lifelong learning and professional development. This commitment involves meeting various certification renewal mandates, often entailing participation in continuing medical education courses. 

Is a Career as a DO Worth It?

Is a Career as a DO Worth It

Becoming a DO is a meaningful and satisfying career choice, particularly if you’re genuinely passionate about helping others. The advantages of becoming a DO are diverse, including:

  • High salary prospects;
  • Engaging in cutting-edge research opportunities; 
  • Application of a holistic treatment approach; 
  • Facilitating the road to a career in primary care. 

However, the path to becoming a DO is not without its set of challenges. Potential drawbacks and challenges of working as a DO include:

  • Limited residency program options;
  • High financial cost of education;
  • Working in traditional research facilities that may not fully embrace a holistic approach in medicine.

Now, it’s up to you to decide whether your desire to become a DO is strong enough for you to go through all the associated challenges. 

Bottom Line

Whether you’re a prospective medical student or simply intrigued by the world of osteopathic medicine, knowing the key requirements for getting accepted into a DO medical school is essential. By understanding the required academic prerequisites, MCAT scores, licensing examinations, residency training, and board certification, you can determine if this career suits you. You should also consider the advantages and disadvantages of choosing a career as a DO. 

However, pursuing a career as an osteopathic physician is undoubtedly worthwhile if you’re passionate about holistic patient care and are committed to making a difference in your community. So, get started on your journey today and embrace the chance to positively impact the lives of your patients by promoting wellness in mind, body, and spirit.  

Frequently Asked Questions:

What is the difference between MD and DO salary?

The BLS doesn’t distinguish between MD and DO salaries, with the average salary for physicians and surgeons being $229,300. According to data from Glassdoor, the average MD salary is $264,712, whereas the average DO salary is $262,076.

What GPA Do you need for DO school?

According to the data collected by AACOM, the average GPA of students entering DO school in 2022 was 3.61. Make sure to maintain a high GPA to strengthen your application and increase your chances of admission. 

How Do Med School Requirements Work?

Medical school requirements vary depending on the institution where you’re applying. However, standard medical school requirements include:

  • Earning a bachelor’s degree;
  • Completing specific coursework;
  • Submitting MCAT scores;
  • Providing letters of recommendation;
  • Having clinical experience;
  • Participating in extracurricular activities;
  • Submitting a compelling personal statement;
  • Interview.

Is it hard to get into DO school?

According to AACOMAS data, out of 27,277 applicants, 8,516 were matriculated, meaning the acceptance rate for students enrolling in a DO program was 31.22%. In contrast, the acceptance rate for MD-granting medical schools was 41.9%. These results demonstrate that DO schools are competitive and can be hard to get into.