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Difference Between DO & MD

Instructor: Carrie Soucy
In the United States, a physician may choose to become either a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) or a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.). Read on to learn about the differences between these two types of medical doctors.

M.D. vs. D.O.: Similarities and Differences

Both D.O. and M.D. degrees entitle physicians to be fully licensed to practice medicine, but there are a few key differences between these two types of medical doctors. The variations between the two spring from the philosophical difference between the holistic nature of the osteopathic medicine studied within D.O. medical schools, and the more traditional allopathic medicine studied by M.D. students. While the vast majority of practicing physicians in the United States hold the M.D. credential, the number of doctors of osteopathic medicine has been growing rapidly over the past three decades and today numbers near 100,000.

M.D. vs. D.O.: Education and Training

Physicians who hold D.O. and M.D. degrees have been similarly trained in the scientific basis of medicine through their academic coursework, internships and residencies. Students in D.O. degree programs, however, also spend 200 or more hours learning osteopathic techniques that focus on manipulating the spine, soft tissue and bones in treating and preventing illnesses and ailments. D.O. physicians emphasize preventative medicine and health education with their patients. In general, a physician with a D.O. degree, while fully trained scientifically, will take a more holistic view of healthcare than a doctor trained in an M.D. program. This short lesson on scientific medicine vs. holistic medicine provides additional information about these different medical philosophies.

Applicants to both types of medical schools usually must meet similar prerequisites, such as holding a bachelor's degree and taking the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) exam. If you are an aspiring physician who is unsure whether to pursue a D.O. or an M.D. degree, you should keep in mind that you will need to take this exam whether you apply to either type of program. For MCAT prep help, check out Study.com's MCAT Test: Practice and Study Guide course.

While application requirements are similar, osteopathic medical schools typically accept applicants whose MCAT scores and GPAs are lower than that of students in allopathic schools. See, for example, the average GPAs and MCAT scores for matriculating students in D.O. and M.D. schools in 2014 - 2015:

Type of Program MCAT Score (mean) GPA (mean)
M.D.* 31.4 3.69
D.O.** 27.21 3.53

Sources: *The Association of American Medical Colleges, **The American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine.

M.D. vs. D.O.: Licensing Examinations

Physicians with D.O. and M.D. credentials both have completed licensing examinations. M.D. candidates take the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) series of exams, while D.O. candidates take the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX-USA) tests. D.O. students who want to pursue residencies in highly competitive allopathic practice areas should check program requirements to see if they need to instead, or additionally, take the USMLE exams.

M.D. vs. D.O.: Areas of Practice

Physicians with an M.D. or D.O. degree can similarly practice in any medical area. However, given the wellness- and patient-focused emphasis of a D.O. program's training, it is no surprise that the majority of D.O. physicians practice within the areas of primary care. To learn more about this medical practice area and the work that primary care doctors perform, see this short What is a Primary Care Physician? lesson.

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