More and more medical school applicants are choosing to apply to and enroll in osteopathic medical schools. In the past 6 years, osteopathic medical school enrollment has been steadily increasing from 14,409 in 2007 to 20,663 in 2012. As awareness about osteopathic medicine grows, not only are patients becoming more comfortable with the idea of being treated by an osteopathic doctor (if they are informed enough to know the difference between an MD and DO), but also prospective doctors are warming up to the idea of becoming a DO.
So if you are interested in becoming a doctor, how are you supposed to go about deciding between applying to MD or DO schools?
If you want to apply to DO schools, you must first know the main differences between an MD and a DO. The main statistic that must be considered when you are about to apply to medical schools is the distinction between admissions statistics. Typically it is easier to gain admissions to a DO school. The average GPA and MCAT scores of those who matriculate at DO schools in 2012 are 3.51 and 26.9 respectively in comparison to 3.68 and 31.2 for MD matriculants. To put that into perspective, a 27 on the MCAT is 57.3-63.6 percentile while a 31 is 80.5-85. A 3.5 GPA is an equal amount of B’s and A’s while a 3.7 GPA is an A- average.
|| Read: Five Steps to a Better GPA
With that being said, here are some factors to consider if you are considering applying to DO schools:
1. What are your GPA and MCAT?
If your statistics were higher than the MD matriculant average, then it would be relatively safe for you to apply to all MD schools. Nevertheless, due to the nature of the admissions process, there is still no guarantee. According to AAMC statistics, if you have a GPA between 3.60 and 3.79 and a MCAT score between 30-32, you have a 70% chance at acceptance. This means if you have a 3.7 and 31 (which is the average for matriculants), your chances of acceptance are closer to 60%. On the flip side, with a 3.7 and 31, you would be an extremely competitive applicant to DO schools with your chances being above 90%. Regardless of whether you apply to DO or MD schools, your grades and MCAT will always heavily determine which schools you apply to.
2. Are you willing to apply to both?
If you are a borderline applicant, meaning you have somewhere between a 3.4-3.6 GPA and 27-30 MCAT, you should consider applying to both DO and MD schools. Once again, you would be competitive applicant for DO schools but your chances at MD schools would be slim. Applying to both also requires an excess amount of work–learning how to apply using two different systems and making sure you fulfill the pre-requisites for both. There is a lot of overlap in terms of pre-requisites, but there are some small differences that you need to be aware of (extra classes or letters of references). If you apply to both, you have to be okay with going to a DO school if that is the only school you are accepted to.
3. Will you have an inferiority complex?
Unfortunately there is no way around this. There will always be people who feel the DO is inferior to the MD. This comparison cannot be legitimately validated or rejected, but people will compare nonetheless. If you think you can handle a handful of (or maybe more depending on the location of your practice) MDs or patients who think you’re inferior, osteopathic medicine is a fine option. You must also consider whether or not you will consider yourself lesser than MDs. If you become a DO, you will need to be comfortable in your shoes and practice confidently rather than always feeling not as good as the MD next door.
4. Do you agree with the DO philosophy?
Although DOs and MDs practice medicine in a similar way, they have (or at least are supposed to have) fundamental differences. Obviously if you completely disagree with the DO approach, you should not go to a DO school. Most students are simply not aware of the DO philosophy and readily accept it when they are actually exposed to it.
5. Are you willing to accept the slight disparity in opportunities?
Traditionally DO students get fewer residencies in competitive specialties. This could be because the DO philosophy aligns more with primary care, which is not as competitive, or because there is an admissions bias. Most likely it is slightly both. DOs also get paid less on average. But this can be explained by the fact that the majority of DOs are primary care physicians. DO students can practice in any specialty and have the opportunities to do so. The DO and MD are equal. Nevertheless, if it is your dream to become a dermatologist, DO is probably not the best option.
If you have the opportunity to go to an MD school, I would say take it. If you are a very competitive applicant for MD schools, you should not apply to DO schools. This opinion is mainly derived from the fact that life is somewhat “easier” as a MD medical student. One example is if DO students want to apply to MD residencies, they must take the USMLE and COMLEX. The MD student only needs to take the USMLE. However, if you are accepted to only a DO school, do not despair, DOs can be excellent doctors and they have plenty of opportunities in every specialty. DOs are not second tier and can be better doctors than MDs. Keep in mind that the doctor matters more than the degree.