Doctor of Medicine vs. Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine

What's the Difference?

The Doctor of Medicine (MD) and Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) are both professional degrees that qualify individuals to practice medicine. While both degrees require similar coursework and clinical training, there are some key differences between the two. MDs primarily focus on the allopathic approach to medicine, which emphasizes the use of drugs and surgery to treat diseases. On the other hand, DOs follow the osteopathic approach, which takes a more holistic view of healthcare, considering the body as a whole and placing emphasis on preventive care and the body's ability to heal itself. DOs also receive additional training in osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT), a hands-on technique used to diagnose and treat musculoskeletal conditions. Ultimately, both MDs and DOs are qualified physicians who can provide comprehensive medical care, but their approaches may differ slightly.


AttributeDoctor of MedicineDoctor of Osteopathic Medicine
Medical DegreeMDDO
TrainingFocuses on allopathic medicineFocuses on osteopathic medicine
PhilosophyEmphasizes disease treatmentEmphasizes holistic approach and preventive care
Medical SchoolsTraditional medical schoolsOsteopathic medical schools
Residency ProgramsCan apply to both MD and DO programsCan apply to both MD and DO programs
SpecialtiesCan specialize in various medical fieldsCan specialize in various medical fields
LicensingLicensed by state medical boardsLicensed by state medical boards
Practice RightsCan practice in all medical settingsCan practice in all medical settings

Further Detail


When it comes to pursuing a career in medicine, aspiring students often have the choice between two primary degrees: Doctor of Medicine (MD) and Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO). While both degrees lead to becoming licensed physicians, there are some key differences in their training, philosophy, and approach to patient care. In this article, we will explore and compare the attributes of MD and DO degrees, shedding light on the similarities and distinctions between these two paths in the medical field.

Educational Background

Both MD and DO degrees require completion of a four-year undergraduate program before entering medical school. The undergraduate coursework typically includes a strong foundation in sciences, such as biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics. After completing their undergraduate studies, aspiring medical students must then pass the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) to gain admission to medical school.

Medical schools offering MD degrees are traditionally known as allopathic medical schools. These schools focus on the conventional approach to medicine, emphasizing the use of drugs, surgery, and other standard treatments. On the other hand, medical schools offering DO degrees are known as osteopathic medical schools. These schools take a more holistic approach to medicine, considering the interrelationship between the body's structure and function, as well as the body's ability to heal itself.

During medical school, both MD and DO students undergo rigorous training, including classroom lectures, laboratory work, and clinical rotations. The curriculum for MD and DO programs is quite similar, covering topics such as anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, pathology, and medical ethics. However, DO students receive additional training in osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT), a hands-on approach to diagnosing and treating patients that focuses on the musculoskeletal system.

Philosophy and Approach to Patient Care

One of the fundamental differences between MD and DO degrees lies in their underlying philosophies and approaches to patient care. MDs primarily practice allopathic medicine, which focuses on diagnosing and treating diseases using drugs, surgery, and other conventional methods. They often specialize in specific medical fields, such as cardiology, neurology, or dermatology, and work in various healthcare settings, including hospitals, clinics, and private practices.

On the other hand, DOs practice osteopathic medicine, which takes a more holistic approach to patient care. They are trained to view the patient as a whole person, considering not only the physical symptoms but also the patient's lifestyle, environment, and emotional well-being. DOs often emphasize preventive care and strive to promote the body's natural ability to heal itself. They may use OMT techniques to complement traditional treatments, aiming to restore balance and improve overall health.

While MDs and DOs have different philosophies, it is important to note that both degrees are recognized by licensing boards, and both MDs and DOs can practice medicine, prescribe medications, and perform surgeries. The distinction in philosophy does not limit the scope of practice for either profession.

Residency and Specialization

After completing medical school, both MD and DO graduates must complete a residency program to gain practical experience in their chosen specialty. Residency programs typically last three to seven years, depending on the specialty. During this time, residents work under the supervision of experienced physicians, further honing their clinical skills and knowledge.

MD and DO graduates are eligible to apply for residency programs in various medical specialties, including internal medicine, pediatrics, surgery, psychiatry, and more. The residency application process is highly competitive, and candidates are evaluated based on their academic performance, clinical experience, letters of recommendation, and personal statements.

It is worth mentioning that the majority of residency programs in the United States are designed for MD graduates. However, DO graduates have equal opportunities to secure residency positions, and many programs are now accepting both MD and DO applicants. The number of DO graduates pursuing specialized training has been steadily increasing over the years.

Licensing and Board Certification

Upon completing their residency program, both MD and DO physicians must obtain a medical license to practice medicine independently. The licensing requirements vary by state but generally involve passing a comprehensive examination, such as the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) for MDs or the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX) for DOs.

After obtaining their medical license, physicians may choose to pursue board certification in their chosen specialty. Board certification is a voluntary process that demonstrates a physician's expertise and commitment to their field. The American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) offers board certification for MDs, while the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) offers board certification for DOs.

Both MDs and DOs can become board-certified specialists, and the certification requirements are similar for both degrees. However, it is important to note that some specialties may have separate boards for MDs and DOs, while others have merged their certification processes to be inclusive of both degrees.


While there are differences between the Doctor of Medicine (MD) and Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degrees, both paths lead to becoming licensed physicians who can provide comprehensive medical care to patients. MDs and DOs receive similar foundational education, undergo rigorous training, and can specialize in various medical fields. The primary distinction lies in the philosophy and approach to patient care, with MDs focusing on conventional medicine and DOs emphasizing a holistic approach. Ultimately, the choice between pursuing an MD or DO degree depends on an individual's personal beliefs, interests, and career goals.

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