The difference between an MD and a DO

June 17, 2016

Article by Global Pre-Meds
Hospital doctor shadowing & global health experience programs.

Click here for 2021 shadowing opportunities


Most people who decide to become a doctor, usually pursue traditional med school and get their MD. But there are also other options to consider. An alternative path to becoming a doctor is obtaining your doctor of osteopathic medicine. Before deciding if becoming a DO is right for you, it is important to understand the differences and similarities between the two professions.


Both medical doctors and osteopathic doctors diagnose and treat patients, but there are many other similarities between the professions. The length of schooling is often similar. For instance, in order to become a medical doctor, students must earn a four-year degree. The same is true for doctors of osteopathic medicine.

After grading college, four additional years of education and training is required for both types of doctors. Medical doctors attend four years of traditional medical school, also known allopathic med school. Doctors of osteopathic medicine must also complete four years at an osteopathic medical school. Additional training is required in the form of a residency for both types of doctors.

Once graduated, both MDs and DOs must pass a state licensing exam to be eligible to practice medicine. Doctors of osteopathic medicine can work in the same specialties as medical doctors. Because their responsibilities are the same, you may have been treated by a DO in the past and not realized it. For instance, both doctors of osteopathic medicine and medical doctors can diagnose and treat medical conditions, prescribe medication and perform surgery.


Although there are many similarities between the two types of doctors, there are also some differences. One of the most significant differences is the approach to medical treatment. Doctors of osteopathic medicine often take a more holistic approach to medical treatment compared to traditional medical doctors. For instance, doctors of osteopathic medicine may use osteopathic manipulative medicine therapies as part of their treatment. In addition, their philosophy of medicine places an emphasis on disease prevention.

Although both MDs and DOs can practice in any specialty, over 60 percent of doctors of osteopathic medicine choose a primary care specialty, such as family practice and internal medicine.

There are also fewer schools offering a medical degree in osteopathic medicine. According to the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine, there are about 30 accredited osteopathic medicine programs in the United States. There are over 140 accredited medical schools in the United States.

Although it can vary, some stats suggest that it may be a bit easier to get accepted into a doctor of osteopathic program. Statistics from the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine and the Association of American Medical Colleges indicate that the overall grade point average of a student accepted into a DO program in 2012 was 3.41 while the GPA for a student accepted into traditional med school was 3.5. MCAT scores were also slightly higher in students accepted into an MD program. Keep in mind, grades and MCAT scores are only two factors both programs consider when accepting applicants.



Chat with us on Facebook or Twitter, or email

Gap Medics provides year-round hospital work experience for people aged 16 and over. Our shadowing placements offer a unique insight into the work of doctors, nurses, midwives, and dentists – helping students to focus their career aspirations before embarking upon medical training.