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Grad Program: Osteopathic Medicine

Basic Information

Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.s) are fully trained physicians, licensed to prescribe medications and perform surgeries in all fifty states. Osteopathic doctors work side by side with M.D.s, usually filling primary care positions in hospitals or clinics. Today, they comprise six percent of all practicing doctors in the United States.

Osteopathic medical training is similar to allopathic medical school in several ways. Like allopathic training, the first two years of schooling are built around foundational coursework in the medical sciences, followed by two years of clinical rotations in an affiliated teaching hospital. However, Osteopathic Medicine diverges from Allopathic Medicine in several distinct ways.

First, osteopathy focuses strongly on the musculoskeletal system and its relation to overall health. In addition to traditional clinical skills, osteopaths receive additional training in osteopathic manipulative treatment, or OMT, (not to be confused with chiropractic manipulation), a technique designed to correct disorders related to the bones, muscles, or nerves. OMT, however, is just one of the hallmarks of osteopathy. In addition, the philosophy behind Osteopathic Medicine is decidedly holistic. Core coursework is taught with a focus on how each discipline relates to a person's overall health and wellness.

Osteopathic programs train students in both medical and humanitarian qualities, and aim to incorporate more preventative medicine than is traditionally taught in allopathic schools. For example, when diagnosing a patient, osteopathic doctors are trained to examine their social and economic situation, mental health, and eating habits and nutrition, in addition to conducting physical examination or lab work.

After completing their degree, osteopathic doctors must pass their state and national licensing exams for osteopathic doctors. After passing the boards, they participate in the same residency-matching program as allopathic doctors. Although there are osteopaths practicing in every medical subspecialty, they do not generally get a spot in the most competitive residency programs.

Therefore, if you want to work in medical research or in a competitive specialty area, you should pursue an M.D. instead. However, if you are interested in primary care—especially with a holistic approach—osteopathic medical school is an excellent option.

Degree Information

The Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O.) is the only degree offered by osteopathic medical schools. Some programs may offer joint degrees with an affiliated business school (D.O./M.B.A), school of public health (D.O./M.P.H.) or other graduate program (D.O./M.A. or D.O./Ph.D.)

Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing a Degree Program
  • What courses comprise the curriculum? Is the curriculum organ/system-based, or is it discipline-based?
  • What elective coursework is offered? What are the school's strengths and weaknesses?
  • What are the clinical facilities like? Where are they located?
  • What is the patient base in the area? Is the setting rural or urban?
  • How is the clinical training divided? What rotations comprise the most time and which comprise the least?
  • What clinical electives are available?
  • What types of residency matches do most graduates get?
  • What medical fields are graduates working in?

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