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  • Saif Fiaz

Osteopathic Schools: What is Osteopathy?

Updated: May 22, 2019

My name is Saif Fiaz and I Graduated from The College of William and Mary in 2017 with a major in Neuroscience and minor in Biochemistry. I took a gap year and applied to medical schools and had several options to decide. One of the major decisions was the option to apply to osteopathic schools or allopathic schools was a tough one to decides. I ended up only applying to Osteopathic schools and now go to NYITCOM. Here are some of the factors you might want to consider during your application cycle.


There are several differences between DO and MD medical schools. However, the biggest thing is the practicing rights in the end. Both DO and MD’s are licensed to practice medicine in the united states and many other countries. MD’s as of right now can practice in more countries than DOs can, however that is quickly changing. To get an up to date list you can usually just google it and find the countries that accept DOs, but as of right now most major countries accept osteopathic physicians.


In terms of training, both DOs and MDs receive the basics of science and clinical education. With 2 years of preclinical training and then 2 years of clerkship. A lot of medical schools (both MD and DO) are going to 1 year of preclinical and 3 years of clerkship with a continued preclinical basic science course being taught throughout your second year while in rotations.


Osteopathic medical schools only differ in terms of something called OMT or Osteopathic Manipulative Therapy. These are usually weekly 2 hour hands on courses (Atleast at NYITCOM) that are required to be taken by all DO students. In OMT you learn how to treat different biomechanical issues within the body such as a strained muscle, tight joints or even nasal congestion. OMT was what gave birth to the profession of physical therapy and also chiropractors. 80% of what OMT entails is similar to what physical therapists or sports medicine physicians currently use to treat their patients and is backed by evidence based medicine and techniques. However less than 20% of it is outdated and unsubstantiated. Most OMT professors know this and are required to teach it out of tradition rather than true clinical education. This is where OMT gets a bad reputation. However most schools, at least where I am at, will emphasize what is evidence based and show you ways to implement it in practice.


In order to be a good student in OMT, you must be good with anatomy. Anatomy is one thing that Osteopathic schools emphasize on to make sure their students are in tune with what structures they are treating physically. Outside of that the education will be very similar to an allopathic school.


In terms of board tests, DO and MD students take two different tests. USMLE for MDs and COMLEX for DOs. However most DOs also take the USMLE in order to apply to MD residencies. But in order for DO students to graduate osteopathic medical schools they MUST take COMLEX. This might change in the future so that we all just take USMLE and DOs are given a supplementary OMT test for their own accreditation but that is highly unlikely to happen. Most people recommend taking both if you are DO student, this gives you the best chance of getting into a residency program that you would like.


Those were the straightforward differences between the schools. However there are minute differences between how each organization is run and also the changes that are coming. Before 2020, MDs could only apply to MD residencies and DO’s could apply to both DO and MD residencies. In 2020 the two accreditation bodies for residencies for both DOs and MDs will merge. This will allow MDs to apply to DO residencies also. This merger is thought to be an equalizing movement and is thought to only prove the equality of DOs and MDs in the medical field. However, we have yet to know how this will effect DO’s match rate into residencies when they graduate. Some people are expecting higher competition but also some are expecting nothing to change. This is the uncertainty of DOs and we will find out with the matching class next year. This should be important when picking and applying to schools. I’ll refer to this in a little bit.

Osteopathic medical schools also have a big focus on primary care. Traditionally DOs are not favored in the surgical and highly competitive residency fields. DOs can make it into those competitive specialities it just a matter of getting the right board scores and having the right extracurriculars on you. If you are someone who is fine with basically anything outside of surgery and dermatology then you should be fine as a DO. DOs are big on preventative care, holistic approach to care and being the forefront of medicine in those that need it the most. One thing that is big is rural healthcare. Some of the unhealthiest people in the US are in rural areas and they need the most help. So one thing that a lot of DO schools are doing now are opening up branch campuses in these rural parts to help with this dilemma. And these schools hope that you would take interest in primary care and serve in those areas after graduating. They know not everyone wants to do that but they want to be able to demonstrate and spark interest and knowledge in this epidemic.


Now let’s talk about applications. Picking the school and what you want to do is very important. Like I said if you want to do primary care and don't care how you get there then DO or MD is fine. If you want surgery only go MD. But the thing is most people will change their speciality a thousand times. So unless you are absolutely 100% sure then I wouldn't make decisions based on your preference just yet. DO schools and MD schools require very similar requirements. DO schools are a little easier to get into, i think the average MCAT was a 503 and GPA was 3.5ish. Whereas MDs are 507ish and 3.7. I came up with these number from what I remember when I was applying. But the thing is, High end DO schools that are well established have higher standards than some low end MDs and the gap is closing fast due to the rising number of applicants. So my rule of thumb is apply to as many schools as you can both above your reach and below your reach and apply both MD and DO. Applying only MD or only DO might be tough because if you don't get accepted to any one of those then you are SOL and need to reapply and applications are not fun. When choosing a school make sure to look at match rates and look at where their students get in .Most schools should be at 90%+ match rate and the more competitive specialties they show data for the better the school is in competing in MD residencies. But I can do another whole write up on the application process because that is just a whole different game.


If you want to learn more about just DO’s go check out Dr. Mike. He is an NYITCOM alumni and practices OMM and has recently become famous among social media. Here's a link to this video on DO vs MD that I think is pretty accurate:


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