DO vs. MD: Should I Apply to Osteopathic Medical Schools?

As a future physician pharmacist, it's important that you understand the differences between Osteopathic Physicians (D.O.) and traditional Medical Doctors (M.D.). When it comes to clinical practice, they are identical entities and practice as attending physicians. In your pharmacy rotations, you have likely crossed paths with several physicians and probably have a reasonable understanding of what they do. Why else would you be interested in making the switch? I'm here to tell you about the differences in their medical education, particularly with regard to getting a medical school acceptance. Whether that acceptance comes from an osteopathic program or medical program is of little significance in the grand scheme of things.

MD vs. DO: Should I Apply to Osteopathic Medical Schools

In this article we will cover the following topics listed below.

  1. Osteopathic Medicine Overview

  2. Residency Match Rates

For More information about MD vs. DO, check Part Two that addresses the following topics.

  1. Medical School Boards

  2. MD vs. DO Salary

  3. How to choose between MD vs. DO

Osteopathic Physician Overview:

Students seeking an osteopathic education undergo the same medical school education except for additional modules concerning osteopathic manipulation involving the musculoskeletal system. This is one of the profession’s core philosophies that employs various techniques and movements to heal the human body. A graduate from one these medical schools will receive a Doctorate in Osteopathic Medicine with “D.O.” medical credentials. These physicians are licensed to practice medicine in all 50-states and are equivalent to their allopathic (M.D.) counterparts.

Osteopathic physicians are trained to treat patients holistically, and to look for factors beyond a patient’s physical ailment. Instead of reaching for the prescription pad, osteopathic physicians will first consider outside variables that could be contributing to the patient's disease. Many graduates from these programs are interested in primary care medicine or rural community medicine because of the ability to build long-standing patient rapport. If you are also one of these applicants, then applying to a D.O. program would be great for you! Alternatively, if you have ambitions to contribute to massive clinical trials, or practice at the nation’s most prestigious medical institutions, an education in osteopathic medicine may not be best for you. More on this later!

Despite all these quality features of attending an osteopathic medical school, many medical school applicants consider this route because it's slightly easier to obtain an acceptance. On average, D.O. program matriculants have lower MCAT scores and GPA's making your chances of getting into a program that much easier. This is not to suggest that osteopathic medical students are less qualified, but to emphasize that osteopathic medical schools prioritize different metrics when choosing future students.

Unfortunately, as the competition for a medical school increases each year, we are noticing an uptrend in matriculant statistics for both MD and DO. Students who would have easily gotten into an M.D. program 10 years ago, are finding themselves only getting into osteopathic medical programs due to the MCAT score uptrend.

In summary, if you are passionate about family medicine/rural medicine or endorse the osteopathic physician philosophy, then applying to D.O. programs is right for you. Alternatively, if you have slightly lower medical school statistics, then it would be in your best interest to apply to these slightly less competitive programs. Your goal is to maximize your chances of getting an acceptance and avoid any costly re-application cycles! At the end of the day, regardless of your schooling route, you will be a practicing physician.

Listed are the Average MCAT Scores and GPAs of Medical School Matriculants for both Osteopathic and Allopathic (M.D.) Routes.

MD vs. DO

Residency Match Rates:

One of the most important facets of becoming a physician, if not the most important, is matching into your desired subset of medicine. The whole reason you are committing your heart and soul to this application process is because you want to practice medicine in a particular field that fascinates you. The good news is that the match rates between M.D. and D.O. medical graduates are essentially the same, 92.8% to 89.1%, respectively.

The bad news is that statistically speaking, D.O. graduates will have a more difficult time matching into traditionally competitive residency programs. This may also be the case for top-residency programs across the country. While this discrepancy has been in decline for decades now, there are still residency programs that will take preference for M.D. applicants. The chart below is a compilation of the 2021 residency match data provided by the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP).

You may also notice that osteopathic physicians have excellent match rates in less competitive specialties including Emergency Medicine (77.3%), Family Medicine (75.3%), and Internal Medicine (77.4%). Part of this is due to the lower number of M.D. physicians applying to these programs, due to the pursuit of specialty programs. Below are the match rates of some of the most common specialties.

For example, out of all the M.D. applicants who applied to Anesthesiology, 70.1% of them matched into that field. Alternatively, of all the D.O. applicants, only 52.2% actually matched. You may also notice that dermatology has a higher D.O. applicant match rate. While at face value you might think that D.O. applicants have the upper hand, but in reality this competitive specialty had less than 15 students even apply. Comparatively the M.D. applicant pool was greater than 200. Of the accepted dermatology residents, M.D. applicants made up 83.3% of all the filled positions.

Medical Specialty

You may be wondering, "Why are M.D. graduates considered with higher regard, despite the exact same medical education?"

Some of this sentiment originated from the reputation that D.O. applicants were less qualified than M.D. applicants due to lower enrollment standards. The irony, of which we have come to find, is that high medical school statistics do not exactly equate to quality physicians. Holistic, culturally diverse, and empathetic applicants with academic talent are what creates a good doctor. In my opinion, the medical education a student obtains has little reflection on the qualifications they express for a residency. At one point during my application cycle, I was going to be an osteopathic medical student. It was my only acceptance at the time, but it didn’t matter, because from that point forward, I was going to be a doctor. If I hadn’t been plucked away by my local M.D. state school, I would be an osteopathic medical student today. I have worked alongside many D.O. physicians and they are equally qualified if not better than their M.D. counterparts.

Continue on to Part Two.

Disclaimer: The limitations I have discussed are not reflective of any viewpoint that I hold and are a shared collection of information based on residency match numbers and professional sentiment.


If you haven't even started your journey into medical school, check out our other Blog Articles here.

For more questions, review our article "6 Most Common Questions About Transitioning From Pharmacy to Medicine."

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