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Osteopathic (DO) medical schools

General Info

There are currently 23 osteopathic schools in the United States.
The DO is slightly less well known than the MD, but if you look around you will actually notice quite a few osteopathic physicians in practice, if you haven't already.

In medical practice, DOs are in all aspects equal to MDs, with all the same rights and privileges. DO physicians are found in all specialties and practicing in all of the US states, but particularly primary care specialties have a large percentage of osteopathic physicians.

Osteopathic (DO) medical schools are somewhat easier to get into than allopathic (MD) medical schools due to lower average GPA and MCAT requirements (refer to the GPA & MCAT section and specific school GPA & MCAT scores in the Medical School Statistics section). However, admission to osteopathic medical schools is still competitive, nonetheless.

There are some limits on international practice rights for DO graduates that don't apply to MD graduates. You can read the full text about international practice rights where I found the following statements on the Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine website.

"In most countries outside the US, physicians apply on an individual basis to become licensed physicians in that country. They may or may not be accepted in certain countries," said Douglas Ward, PhD, consultant to the American Osteopathic Association and former associate executive director of the AOA and its Department of Education. "In some countries, osteopathic physicians are arbitrarily dismissed by officials who say, 'you're a DO and we don't recognize you.' In others, they receive full practice rights, or limited practice rights on an individual basis."

For most students, this won't be an issue since they are planning on practicing in the United States anyway, but if you are specifically interested in practicing abroad, you may want to check out your international options to make sure this path will meet your needs.

Faculty is generally research oriented, but often the general school mission is more clinically oriented. Also, generally speaking, most osteopathic schools do not have large local teaching hospitals affiliated with them.
In fact, in some cases, core (and often other) 3rd and 4th year rotations are not locally offered at all.

DO students normally take the COMLEX board exams and may also take the USMLE board exams, in addition to the COMLES, if planning to apply to MD Residency Programs as well. Many osteopathic graduates apply to MD residencies due to a shortage of DO (AOA approved) residency spots.

Application to osteopathic medical schools is handled through the AACOMAS application.

The Osteopathic Approach

What distinguishes osteopathic (DO) medical schools slightly from allopathic (MD) medical schools is the osteopathic philosophy or approach to medicine. Besides the normal basic science and clinical curriculum, DO students also learn Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine (referred to as OMM or OTM most of the time), which comes close to a cross between physical therapy and chiropractic - it's really neither, because it is unique in its own right, but can address some of the same type of musculoskeletal problems as the two professions mentioned.

Please don't send me an email complaining that I am wrong about OMM and that it's not a cross between physical therapy and chiropractic. If you have a better two or three line synopsis, email that to me instead.

These OMM/OTM techniques are quite useful for treating back pain, headaches, and address many other problems related to the musculoskeletal system and are extra skills that MD graduates don't have.

Some osteopathic physicians and current osteopathic medical students I have spoken with chose the DO path over the MD path for the additional OMM/OTM training. However, realistically, most osteopathic physicians do not use their extra skills once in practice.


DO graduates can apply for both osteopathic (DO) residencies (from which MD applicants are precluded) and allopathic (MD) residencies in all specialties but may find it slightly harder to compete with MDs for allopathic (MD) residencies. Some very competitive MD residency programs are virtually impossible for osteopathic graduates to get into.

Osteopathic graduates participate in the Osteopathic Residency Match and can participate in the MD Match as independent applicants. Osteopathic medical schools were originally set up to "produce" primary care specialists (family medicine, pediatrics, internal medicine, OBGYN) and most DOs still enter primary care specialties. However, compared to the past, many DOs now choose to specialize outside of primary care.

Note that there are special residency considerations if participating in a military scholarship that apply to both MD and DO graduates. Military residencies consider both MD and DO graduates completely equally. You are required to go through a Military Residency Match instead of the civilian residency match in most cases. You can find out more about this in the Residency Thoughts section.

I would highly recommend the book "Iserson's Getting Into A Residency".
It obviously covers residency information in great depth as the title suggests, but it really covers much more than just residency and is an excellent resource on a wide variety of topics related to the medical education experience. (see the recommended books list - I highly recommend this book)

Combined Degree Programs

Some schools also offer DO/PhD or other combined degree programs. Most of the time, these are combination degrees offering DO/Bioethics, DO/MPH (public health) or a DO degree with some other Master's Degree.

Other Related Info

See the Path to Medicine section for a brief overview of the entire medical training and the Taste of Med School section for more detail about the medical school experience. You can also read Student Perspectives to get an idea of what applicants (DO and other) did to gain admission to medical schools. Also, be sure to check out the med school diaries for a more "insider" view into med school life. For a complete list of medical schools, details and statistical information about medical schools, visit the Med Schools Statistics section.

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