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MD versus DO: Is there a difference?

The question of which medical school route to take has become a debate amongst premed students: “What is the difference between MD and DO?” The question refers to the difference between allopathic medical schools and osteopathic medical schools, as well as the future physicians that the respective schools produce. Graduates of allopathic schools earn the title, MD, while graduates of osteopathic schools earn the title, DO. MD stands for medical doctor and DO stands for doctor of osteopathic medicine, although in the United States both are considered physicians.

Allopathic schools are, in a sense, the “traditional” medical schools. “Traditional” refers to the overall approach to medicine, which is slightly different from their osteopathic counterparts. In contrast to allopathic medical schools, osteopathic schools tend to focus on the musculoskeletal system and its interconnectedness with the human body.

Osteopathic schools have the same general academic admission requirements as allopathic schools, including science coursework, taking the MCAT, and GPA requirements. Osteopathic medical students must learn the same fundamental medical information as allopathic students. Osteopathic physicians practice under their own license, are able to write prescriptions, and are referred to as “doctor”.

So what is the difference in becoming an MD and becoming a DO? Osteopathic medical students take the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX) while allopathic students take the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). It is possible for osteopathic medical students to take the USMLE, however, allopathic medical students are ineligible to sit for the COMLEX.

This is what the AACOM says about osteopathic medicine:

Osteopathic medicine is a distinct form of medical practice in the United States. Osteopathic medicine provides all of the benefits of modern medicine including prescription drugs, surgery, and the use of technology to diagnose disease and evaluate injury. It also offers the added benefit of hands-on diagnosis and treatment through a system of therapy known as osteopathic manipulative medicine. Osteopathic medicine emphasizes helping each person achieve a high level of wellness by focusing on health promotion and disease prevention.

Another difference in the two medical practices is international recognition. While MD’s are eligible in most countries to practice medicine, DO’s are not afforded the same benefit. Some countries simply do not recognize DO’s as physicians, while others only allow them limited medical practice privileges.

While this article does not encompass all differences between osteopathic and allopathic medicine, it should shed some light on the issue for premeds.

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