Understanding the available options in medical education can often feel overwhelming, given the plethora of degrees and fields to consider. One notable path is the Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO). 

But what is a DO degree, and what distinguishes it from an MD degree? Both degrees qualify individuals to practice medicine, yet encompass some key differences.

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In this examination of osteopathic medicine, we’ll delve into the difference between an MD and a DO, as well as its principles, philosophy, and influence on healthcare.

What is a DO Degree?

Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) is a professional degree awarded to physicians who have completed osteopathic medical school. Unlike the more common Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree, DOs adhere to a distinct philosophy of medicine that emphasizes the interrelatedness of the body’s systems and the importance of holistic care.

Founded by Dr. Andrew Taylor Still in the late 19th century, osteopathic medicine emerged as a response to the limitations of conventional medical practices of the time. Dr. Still’s principles centered around the belief that the human body has the ability to heal itself and the importance of treating patients as a whole rather than focusing solely on symptoms. 

Osteopathic medicine incorporates traditional medical training with additional instruction in osteopathic manipulative medicine. This involves hands-on techniques to diagnose, treat, and prevent illness or injury. Today, DOs are fully licensed physicians who can practice in all specialties, providing comprehensive, patient-centered care.

What is Osteopathic Medicine?

Osteopathic Medicine embodies a unique approach to healthcare founded on the principles of holistic wellness, preventive care, and a deep understanding of the interconnectedness of the body’s systems. At its core, osteopathic philosophy emphasizes treating the patient as a whole rather than addressing isolated symptoms. This holistic perspective recognizes the symbiotic relationship between the body, mind, and spirit, viewing health as a dynamic balance within this interconnected system. 

Osteopathic physicians prioritize preventive medicine, striving to identify and address underlying issues before they manifest as illness or injury. Integral to osteopathic practice is recognizing the musculoskeletal system’s role in overall health, focusing on optimizing its function to support the body’s natural ability to heal itself.

For example, through hands-on techniques such as osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT), practitioners aim to restore alignment, alleviate pain, and enhance the body’s innate capacity for self-healing.

By embracing this comprehensive approach to patient care, osteopathic medicine seeks to foster physical well-being and mental, emotional, and spiritual vitality, promoting health and wellness throughout the lifespan.

How to Become a DO?

Becoming a Doctor of Osteopathy (DO) involves several key steps. First, you must obtain an undergraduate degree and attend an accredited osteopathic medical school. After completing medical school, aspiring DOs must pass the licensure examination specific to osteopathic medicine. Subsequently, they apply for residency positions in their chosen specialty as DOs. In the following paragraphs, we will detail these steps, outlining the requirements and considerations for pursuing a career as a DO.

1. Obtain an undergraduate degree

The first essential step in obtaining an undergraduate degree and pursuing a career as a Doctor of Osteopathy (DO) is completing a bachelor’s degree program at an accredited institution. While there’s no strict prerequisite major for osteopathic medical school admission, aspiring DOs typically pursue coursework in foundational sciences like biology, chemistry, physics, and anatomy. These courses provide crucial knowledge and skills that help you understand the functioning of human health. 

Mathematics, English, and social sciences coursework are also beneficial, as they help develop critical thinking, communication, and interpersonal skills—vital abilities for medical practice. 

Although majors such as biology, biochemistry, or neuroscience are common among pre-medical students due to their alignment with medical school prerequisites and strong science foundations, students from diverse academic backgrounds are encouraged to pursue their interests while fulfilling the requirements for medical school admission..

2. Attend osteopathic medical school

The next step in the journey to become a DO doctor is to attend osteopathic medical school. Admission to DO programs typically requires applicants to have completed a bachelor’s degree with competitive GPAs and satisfactory scores on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).

Additionally, letters of recommendation, personal statements, and interviews are often part of the application process. Once accepted, students embark on a comprehensive medical education that integrates traditional medical training and osteopathic principles. 

During the four years of osteopathic medical school, the curriculum is divided into two main phases: preclinical and clinical. During the preclinical years, students delve into foundational sciences such as anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, and pathology, gaining a solid understanding of the human body and its functions. In the clinical years, students rotate through various medical specialties, gaining hands-on experience in patient care under the supervision of licensed physicians. 

One distinguishing feature of osteopathic medical education is the emphasis on Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment (OMT), a hands-on approach for diagnosing, treating, and preventing illness or injury. Throughout their training, students learn OMT techniques to complement their understanding of conventional medical practices, enriching their ability to provide holistic and patient-centered care.

3. Take the DO license

Upon completion of osteopathic medical school, future DO doctors need to take the DO license. This marks their transition into independent medical practice. The primary licensing examination for DOs is the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX). This series of exams is administered by the National Board of Osteopathic Medical Examiners (NBOME) and consists of three levels: Level 1, Level 2-CE (Cognitive Evaluation), and Level 2-PE (Performance Evaluation). 

Level 1 assesses basic science knowledge acquired during medical school, while Level 2 evaluates clinical knowledge and skills. Level 2-CE comprises multiple-choice questions covering internal medicine, surgery, obstetrics, and gynecology. 

On the other hand, Level 2-PE assesses clinical skills through standardized patient encounters, testing candidates’ ability to perform physical examinations, communicate effectively, and formulate diagnosis and treatment plans.

Successfully passing the COMLEX is a prerequisite for obtaining licensure to practice osteopathic medicine in the United States. Additionally, some states may require DOs to pass additional licensing exams or fulfill specific state requirements for medical licensure.

4. Apply for a residency as a DO

Applying for a residency as a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) marks the final stage of medical training before entering independent practice. DOs have the option to apply for residency programs through the traditional allopathic (MD) residency match system, known as the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP), or through the osteopathic match system, known as the National Resident Matching Program for Osteopathic Medicine (NRMOM). 

Osteopathic residency programs, often called osteopathic graduate medical education (OGME), offer training opportunities in various specialties and subspecialties, ranging from family medicine and internal medicine to surgery, pediatrics, and beyond. These programs incorporate osteopathic principles into clinical practice, emphasizing a holistic approach to patient care and integrating Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment (OMT) alongside conventional medical therapies. 

The application process for osteopathic residency programs typically involves submitting applications through the Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS) or the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM) Application Service (AACOMAS), depending on the program’s requirements.

Applicants may need to provide letters of recommendation, personal statements, transcripts, and other supporting documents. Interviews are then conducted to assess applicants’ qualifications, interpersonal skills, and fit for the program. Upon completing a residency program, DOs are eligible for board certification in their chosen specialty, paving the way for a rewarding career in osteopathic medicine.

Is a DO Degree Right for Me?

Determining if a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree is the right path for you requires inward reflection and self-assessment. Firstly, consider your interest. Are you interested in holistic medicine, treating patients as whole individuals, or do you want to use contemporary health technology that treats symptoms? Both are important and play a crucial role in providing care to communities. However, you need to reflect on whether osteopathic medicine’s holistic approach resonates with your values and aspirations as a future healthcare professional.

Additionally, evaluate your career goals and objectives. Are you drawn to primary care specialties such as family medicine, internal medicine, or pediatrics, where osteopathic principles are often integrated into patient care? Or do you envision pursuing a specialty where osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT) can complement conventional medical therapies? Consider how the principles of osteopathic medicine align with your career aspirations and whether they offer the opportunities and flexibility you seek in your medical career.

Ultimately, choosing a DO degree entails aligning your personality, vision, and goals with the holistic philosophy and principles of osteopathic medicine to embark on a fulfilling and meaningful journey in healthcare.


To end, pursuing a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degree offers a unique pathway to a rewarding career in healthcare. From obtaining an undergraduate degree to completing osteopathic medical school, obtaining licensure, and securing a residency, each step presents opportunities for personal and professional growth. 

Through a holistic approach to patient care, emphasis on preventive medicine, and integration of osteopathic principles into practice, DOs are equipped to address the diverse healthcare needs of individuals and communities.

As you consider your journey in medicine, weigh the alignment of osteopathic philosophy with your interests, career goals, and aspirations. Embrace the breadth and depth of opportunities offered by the DO degree, and embark on a path that honors the interconnectedness of mind, body, and spirit in healing.


Are DO programs easier to get into than MD programs?

Admissions criteria vary, but generally, DO programs may have slightly higher acceptance rates than MD programs. However, both paths require rigorous academic preparation and competitive applications.

What are the differences between DO and MD medical approaches?

While both DO and MD physicians undergo similar medical training, DOs receive additional instruction in osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT), emphasizing a holistic approach to patient care.

Do DO physicians make less money than MDs?

On average, MD physicians earn slightly higher salaries than DO physicians, but individual earnings can vary based on specialty, location, and experience.

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