DO Programs: A Comprehensive Guide to Osteopathic Medical Schools

Padya Paramita

DO Programs: A Comprehensive Guide to Osteopathic Medical Schools

You’ve gathered your transcripts, drafted your personal statement, committed to some impressive extracurricular activities, and are all set to apply to medical school with high hopes. But then, you see your MCAT score and your heart sinks. It’s far below the median scores for all of the top medical schools. In fact, you’re not even sure that you can apply to any MD school at all. You’re probably wondering if you have to repeat this entire exhausting process, and let months of hard work go to waste. Fear not. This is where osteopathic medical schools come in.

It’s not uncommon to be rejected from every medical school you apply to. In fact, in 2018, only 41% of all applicants were accepted into any medical school at all, so it’s actually the majority of students who are turned down! And medical schools are only getting more selective. To ensure that you save time and money for actually attending medical school, you definitely should look toward other options. So it’s time to expand your list beyond MD schools, and think about some Doctors of Osteopathic medical schools (DO) as well.

To help you better understand osteopathic medical schools, I’ve outlined exactly what DO schools are, which schools offer DO programs, what the typical curriculum looks like, and the major differences between DO and MD schools. I have also elaborated on the application process for osteopathic medical schools around the country.

What are Osteopathic Medical Schools?

Osteopathic medical schools train students for a holistic approach to patient treatment and healthcare. Through a focus on hands-on natural treatments and promotion of a healthier lifestyle, DO schools teach their students to improve patients’ overall well being and focus on the prevention of diseases. Instead of learning the inner workings of each individual organ, as a DO student, you would be more centered on the skeletal system and muscles.

If you think you might be missing out on learning key skills by opting for DO schools, think again. Osteopathic doctors are trained physicians as well, and learn to perform different kinds of medical procedures, including surgeries. As the demand for spots in medical schools increases, applications to DO schools have increased as well. Currently, there are more than 30,000 students enrolled in DO programs, making up 25% of all medical students. There are almost 115,000 osteopathic physicians in the United States alone.

Which Schools Offer DO Programs?

Osteopathic medicine was first introduced by physician and surgeon Andrew Still, who coined the term “osteopathy” in 1834. Dr. Still was dissatisfied with the limitations of conventional medicine and wanted to approach patient care through the “osteon” or the bone. So, he founded the first school of osteopathy - the American School of Osteopathy - which still exists today as A.T. Still University. DO schools have been founded throughout the country since. According to the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM), there are 35 accredited osteopathic medical schools, including 6 public colleges, and 29 private colleges, in the United States.

Just like for MD schools, osteopathic medical schools require you to submit your MCAT score, transcripts, and letters of recommendation (each school has specific requirements, so check!). The average GPA for DO students is 3.54, while the average MCAT score is 503.8.

Check out the currently existing DO schools, along with their average GPA, MCAT score, acceptance rates (for those reported), and location, below:

School Name Location Average MCAT Average GPA Acceptance Rate
A.T. Still University (Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine) Kirksville, MO 501 3.59
A.T. Still University School of Osteopathic Medicine in Arizona Mesa, AZ 504 3.52
Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine Dothan, AL 501 3.33 10%
Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine Glendale, AZ 508 3.54
Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine Fort Smith, AR 500 3.50 25%
Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine Las Cruces, NM 499 3.45
Campbell University School of Osteopathic Medicine Lillington, NC 503 3.50
Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine Chicago, IL 507 3.67
College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific Pomona, CA 506 3.63 7%
Debusk College of Osteopathic Medicine at Lincoln Memorial University Harrogate, TN 501 3.34 9%
Des Moines University College of Osteopathic Medicine Des Moines, IA 507 3.61 16%
Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine Blacksburg, VA; Spartanburg, SC; Auburn AL 500 3.55 12%
Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine Athens, OH 502.43 3.64
Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences Kansas City, MO 506 3.57
Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine Lake Erie, PA 503 3.50 8%
Liberty University College of Osteopathic Medicine Lynchburg, VA 500 3.40
Marian University College of Osteopathic Medicine Indianapolis, IN 504 3.66 16%
Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine East Lansing, MI 506 3.60
New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine Long Island, NY 505.5 3.60
Nova Southeastern University College of Osteopathic Medicine Davie, FL 505 3.50 9%
Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences Tulsa, OK 500 3.60
Pacific Northwest University of Health and Sciences College of Osteopathic Medicine Yakima, WA 501.89 3.43 6%
Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine Philadelphia, PA 503 3.53 9%
University of Pikeville Kentucky College of Osteopathic Medicine Pikeville, KY 501 3.50 8%
Rocky Vista University College of Osteopathic Medicine Parker, Co and Ivins UT 505.59 3.59 3%
Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine Stratford, NJ 505 3.59 7%
Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine Fort Worth, TX 506 3.63 12%
Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine - California San Francisco, CA 508 3.51 8%
Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine - New York New York, NY 512 3.63 10%
Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine - Nevada Henderson, NV 505 3.00
University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine Biddeford, ME 504 3.57
University of the Incarnate Word School of Osteopathic Medicine San Antonio, TX 502 3.52
West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine Lewisburg, WV 500 3.00 8%
William Carey Hattiesburg, MS 500 3.40

While DO programs are still highly competitive,  you can see that the MCAT scores and GPA of students accepted into DO schools are far lower than those at the top MD schools. Most DO schools have acceptance rates of 6-8%, while MD schools usually accept 3-4% of their applicants. The highest average MCAT score at DO schools is 512. Students gunning for top MD programs should have scores above 515. The takeaway: MD schools are significantly more difficult to get into.

The majority of osteopathic medical schools are located in the midwest and the south. There are a few on the west coast, and a handful on the east coast. Beyond what meets the eye from looking at the table, these programs have a lot of great features which make them strong schools to put on your list.

All DO schools are not identical. Many of them are known for impressive statistics or facilities. If you’re worried about residency placements, DO schools have got you covered. For instance, Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine has a 99% residency-match rate, with 90% of students getting into their first choice residency programs. DO programs also attract a diverse population: Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine prides itself on increasing the number of underrepresented minorities in medicine. If you’re most excited about clinical exposure, you wouldn’t be missing out by attending an osteopathic medical school! Opened in 2017, the Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine is the first DO school to share a campus with a regional medical center - the Southeast Alabama Medical Center.

There are a lot of great options to choose from, depending on which criteria you prioritize the most in your medical training.

Curriculum for Osteopathic Medical Schools

Osteopathic medical schools help you master the art of manual medicine in the treatment of patients. The DO curriculum is designed to help you become an expert physician in a way that even MD training might not - such as the emphasis on bones and muscles.

Your four years at DO schools are divided into two halves, similar to MD programs: year one and two are the preclinical years, while the latter two are the clinical years. In the preclinical years, you focus more on studying biomedical and clinical sciences, including:

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Biochemistry
  • Behavioral science
  • Internal medicine
  • Medical ethics
  • Neurology
  • Osteopathic manual medicine
  • Pathology
  • Pharmacology
  • Preventive medicine and nutrition
  • Clinical practice

The last two years, as the name suggests, will provide you with more hands-on clinical exposure. During these years you’ll focus on clinical training and sub-internships in the various specialties.

Alongside medical training, an osteopathic education involves an additional 200-500 hours of studying techniques on manipulative medicine, better known as Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment, which focuses on the human skeletal system. Many students prefer this philosophy and apply to DO schools to learn this method specifically. A lot of course material in osteopathic medical schools is dedicated to learning the structure of the human skeleton, in order to better understand the function of each bone and muscle.

Osteopathic practice also places a strong emphasis on allowing the body to heal itself naturally instead of relying on ways that might be deemed unnatural, or using catalysts that speed up the healing process. As a result, another priority of osteopathic manipulative medicine method is to avoid any obstacles the body might have to naturally healing itself, and letting it take its time instead. Asserting that the DO approach appeals to you should definitely be an important part of your DO application!

DO vs. MD

Even after learning more about DO schools, you might be unconvinced. Letting go of a lifelong MD dream is not easy. So you should know exactly what you are missing out on if you attend an osteopathic medical school. Outlined below are some of the key differences between MD and DO schools.

Criteria MD Schools DO Schools
Number of schools available Near 200 35
Application requirements AMCAS application, transcript, MCAT score, personal statement highlighting why you want to become a doctor, school-specific requirements, letters of recommendation AACOMAS application, transcript, MCAT score, personal statement highlighting why you want to become a DO, letters of recommendation
Dual degree options Many schools offer MD/PhDs or MD/MPH (Master of Public Health) Only a select few schools offer DO/PhD: Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine, Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences College of Osteopathic Medicine, Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine, and the University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth/Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine, and New York Institute of Osteopathic Medicine
Residency Options After completing the MD, you would enter the National Residency Match Program, which would place you in the specialty of your choice Enter either the National Residency Match Program, or choose one of the 500 Osteopathic residency options - 56% of DO students were matched into primary care programs this year.
Residency duration 3-7 years 2 years if pursuing a DO residency
Exam to obtain medical license United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination of the United States (COMLEX)

While your options might be limited in some ways, such as fewer schools to select from, the opportunity to pursue either an MD or DO residency also grants you access to multiple career paths. If you realize after completing your four years of medical school at a DO college that you want an MD residency, you can enter the Residency Match Program. If you discover that you’ve grown fond of the DO style of practice and actually want to make a career out of it, you will also be able to opt for a DO residency and finish your education much faster.

What Can You Do With an Osteopathic Medicine Degree?

You’re probably wondering exactly what your career might look like if you choose the osteopathic route after medical school. Most DOs specialize in general and family medicine, general internal medicine and general pediatrics. DOs tend to work more in rural and underdeveloped areas. Salaries are actually quite comparable:, osteopathic doctors annually earn between $204,000 and $443,000. MD doctors on the other hand make from $192,000 and $663,000, depending on their specialty.

Just like any other physician, as a DO you can diagnose, treat, and prescribe medication to patients. You can also become a surgeon. Though most students don’t go this route, 7% of DO students were matched with general surgery residencies this year, while 12% went into orthopedic surgery.

There isn’t a set career path or limitation - DO specialists work in trauma units, sports medicine, pediatrics, and more. If you enjoy research, you can also work in one of the thousands of labs around the country working to find the causes of different illnesses and developing more effective treatments.

Applying to DO Schools

Although DO colleges tend to accept students with lower GPAs and MCAT scores, admission into osteopathic medical schools is by no means a shoo-in. Because there are so few DO schools around, with a number of spots available, the demand is actually very high.

You should start filling out the AACOMAS when it opens on May 2. On June 14, DO schools start accepting and reviewing applications. While the requirements for the AMCAS and AACOMAS are similar for the most part, the AACOMAS personal statement allows 4500 characters, while the AMCAS has a limitation of 5300. The AACOMAS activities section has a limit of 600 characters, while the AMCAS allows 700. You won’t be asked your 3 most meaningful activities for the AACOMAS.

Most DO schools have deadlines in February and March, but a few deadlines end as early as October. If granted, applicants start hearing back about interviews on a rolling basis, usually starting in September, going all the way until March.

Your personal statement and overall application need to reflect strong communication and interpersonal skills, a record of community service, appreciation for the DO philosophy, and clinical experience (specifically in osteopathic practice). DO schools want to know you are passionate about osteopathic medicine and in order to apply, you need to have shadowed an osteopathic physician and gained knowledge of the field, along with possessing strong motivation to pursue a career in osteopathic medicine. It should not seem that you just decided at the last minute to scurry and fill out your DO application. Keep osteopathic medical schools in mind beforehand, and take initiatives to pursue DO-related work experiences.

If you feel like your GPA or MCAT score aren’t strong enough for medical colleges in the country, consider osteopathic medical schools. But don’t take the DO admissions process for granted just because it may seem like less of a challenge on paper. Trust me, you have your work cut out for you. As more students look toward the DO option, the process is getting more and more competitive. Osteopathic medicine introduces you to a whole new kind of healing philosophy, and who knows, you might just end up applying to one of the DO schools, and falling completely in love with it!

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