Is Osteopathic Medicine Right for Your Career?
December 14, 2016
A previous version of this article was written by Kevin Yang.
Becoming a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) are both paths that can lead you to a successful and fulfilling career. But what are the differences between the two degrees?
If you had asked me at the beginning of college whether or not a DO could prescribe medication, I would have given the same answer as one-third of Americans—I don’t know. Of course, after several years of experience shadowing DOs as a student of osteopathic medicine, I now know both types of medical degrees receive the same level of training, specialize in the same fields, and afford similar career opportunities and salary expectations. That doesn’t mean the two are identical, however, and there are some major differences you should know when considering one degree or the other.
Opportunities in osteopathic medicine
It’s no secret that the field of osteopathic medicine is rapidly expanding. According to The New York Times, the number of osteopathic schools has doubled in the past thirty years, and the number of osteopathic students has quadrupled in the same time period. To meet the predicted shortage of physicians, osteopathic schools have opened up branch campuses and increased class sizes.
Medical school competition is tough no matter which path is right for you. For every open seat, there are 2.57 students applying. For some applicants—especially non-traditional students—the lower entering scores for DO students can be a boon to their application. According to the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine, DO matriculants had an average of a 27 on the MCAT, compared to a 31 for MD matriculants. Likewise, the average GPA for the DO matriculant was a 3.5, compared to a 3.69 for MD students. DO admissions also tend to focus on the person’s application as a whole, keeping in line with the holistic principles of medicine—they are more interested in what people have done with their lives and why they want a career in medicine.
How are DOs different from other medical doctors?
Programs in osteopathic medicine have another major difference: Every student is expected to spend time learning about osteopathy—that is, the art of manipulation in order to improve health, restore function, and allow the body to heal itself. To the untrained eye, Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine (OMM) (also known as Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment) might look like simple physical exercises and stretches, but a trained physician can use his or her hands to diagnose and treat all types of dysfunctions—muscular, skeletal, even visceral.
As a student, I learned many of these techniques, but it was during the summer when I was conducting research at an OMM clinic that I saw the efficiency of these treatments. The majority of patients had mobility issues, pain, stiffness, spasms, and other physical disabilities. Their symptoms vastly improved after osteopathic therapy and their gratitude was moving. If you are interested in sports medicine, physical therapy, pain management, and family practice, OMM might be an important skill in your repertoire for addressing the bulk of problems you’ll see on a day-to-day basis—joint pain, muscle ache, low back pain, knee issues, just to name a few.
The benefits of becoming a DO
My experience in the osteopathic field as a student doctor has been overwhelmingly positive, and I am proud to call myself a DO. Attending an osteopathic school was a way of getting quality education while also learning a hands-on field of medicine to address common patient complaints. It should come as no surprise that the increasing number of osteopathic students will lead to DOs becoming a larger proportion of the practicing physician population. Osteopathic medicine is on the rise and every day more people are learning what a DO is and how they can benefit from osteopathic medicine.
The takeaway message is this: Both pathways will lead to the good life with a successful, fulfilling career in medicine. The most important factor in your decision is which pathway fits you better and will make your journey to becoming a doctor more rewarding.
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