If you’re considering medical school, you’ve probably seen “MD” and “DO.” These are the two designations for physicians in the United States before they specialize in any field. While the titles are different, there are more similarities than differences between the classifications.
The differences between getting a DO or an MD degree might influence your decision. So, what’s the difference between an MD vs DO? Is an MD better than a DO? Find out now with our comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing guide! Let’s Explore Primary Care Specialties: Your Guide to MDs and DOs.
What is an MD?
An MD stands for Medical Doctor and is a person comprehensively trained to practice medicine. MDs are licensed to practice medicine which is sometimes referred to as allopathic medicine.
To become an MD and practice general medicine, a person needs to complete medical school and a residency. An MD is synonymous with allopathic medicine or Doctor of Medicine. MDs receive their education and training from Allopathic medical schools.
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What is a DO?
So, what kind of doctor is a DO? If you don’t know what a DO is, it’s a type of doctor called Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine. It’s similar to an MD, which stands for Medical Doctor. DOs receive their education and training from Osteopathic medical schools. But they can attend allopathic medical schools like MDs. Similarly, MDs are also not prevented from attending Osteopathic medical schools.
Is an osteopath a medical doctor? Yes. A DO has the same privileges, rights, as well as responsibilities to practice medicine as an MD. A DO must complete the four-year medical schooling with a residency, like an MD.
The differentiation is that a DO undergoes training of manual manipulation of the musculoskeletal system. And MDs generally do not receive formal training in the musculoskeletal system.
Some Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine also incorporate more blended healthy lifestyle techniques with western medicine.
Similarities Between MDs and DOs
The education for an MD and DO is very similar. However, a DO must complete an additional 300-500 hours of hands-on training in musculoskeletal manipulation. Both degree paths require a four-year degree before entering either variation of medical programs.
MD and DO doctors both receive training in a wide range of medical fields. These fields include family medicine, internal medicine, surgery, emergency care, public health, radiology, obstetrics/gynecology, psychiatry, and pediatrics.
A Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, once licensed, can diagnose, prescribe medicine, treat patients, and perform surgery throughout the United States—just like an MD.
A DO can also specialize in various fields of medicine the way an MD can. Applying for and going through medical school is virtually the same. Schooling for DOs focuses on studying the musculoskeletal system and holistic philosophy, in addition to traditional western medicine.
Differences Between MDs and DOs
As mentioned, the schooling is similar. However, a DO has further musculoskeletal study and learns a holistic approach along with western medicine. There is another difference between DOs and MDs. DOs have to appear for Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination. It is a licensing exam that is mandatory for medical students to practice as osteopathic physicians in the US. A keystone theory of osteopathic medicine is that proper form and function in the body helps to facilitate healing.
The average annual income for a primary care physician in the United States was $200,696 as of 2023, regardless of a DO or MD title. Either type of physician will typically earn more in a specialized field, although more MDs go into specialized medicine than DOs.
Do MDs Make More Money Than DOs?
Yes and no. On average, an MD and a DO practicing family medicine earn about the same. However, more MDs go into specialized fields, which make more, therefore raising the average salary for MDs.
A DO is not less qualified than an MD. Far more physicians practicing osteopathic medicine (60 percent) go into a primary care position, instead of a specialized field. And the reason is DOs’ holistic approach to patient care makes them well-suited for primary care. So DOs practice in primary care where they can focus on the patients and their well-being. In primary care specialties, DOs build long-term relationships with patients and coordinate overall healthcare.
Both an MD and a DO must complete a residency in the final two years of medical school. Residency programs are advanced training programs that are designed to provide experience to medical school graduates. A DO can select either a residency through an MD program or a DO program. Most medical school students can easily enter a residency, but some residencies may present more difficulty for DOs in accepting them.
Do MDs or DOs Have Higher Acceptance Rates?
Is DO easier than MD? It’s harder to get into a DO program because there are fewer accredited schools for them. In the United States, there are 141 schools for MD programs, while there are only 31 for DO programs.
However, on average, MCAT scores and GPAs are slightly higher for MD students than DO students. In 2022-2023, the average GPA for MD programs was 3.62, while for DO curriculum it was 3.48.
In the United States, an MD degree is typically more well-respected than a DO. That does not mean a physician with either degree is actually better or worse than the other. MDs outnumber DOs, and because of the standardized acceptance of MDs, people often consider them slightly more reputable.
You should not mistake a DO for a Naturopathic Doctor (ND) or a Doctor of Chiropractic, though. A DO is more reputable (being a primary care or specialized physician) than the latter two.
International opportunities are a significant difference between an MD and a DO. Most of the world recognizes an MD from the United States. A DO (doctor of osteopathic medicine) limits international work opportunities.
MD vs. DO
- Schooling is similar, but DO programs study more musculoskeletal/holistic care.
- Pay is virtually the same as a primary care physician with either a DO or MD.
- More MDs go into specialized fields (both are capable).
- Some select residency programs are more challenging to get into as a DO.
- Far more schools offer MD programs than DO programs.
- An MD can work internationally; a DO cannot.
- DO usually goes to the College of Osteopathic Medicine, and An MD goes to allopathic medical schools.
- An MD can attend College of Osteopathic Medicine but it is rare.
Can DOs write prescriptions?
Yes, a Doctor from osteopathic medical schools can write prescriptions, just like an MD.
Which is more difficult to obtain, a DO or an MD?
Getting a DO degree is harder because there aren’t many schools that offer DO programs, so more people get turned down. However, there is possibly some correlation between the slightly higher GPA average of MD students and the difficulty of MD programs. So an MD degree is slightly easier to get.
Do DOs have lower MCAT scores?
The difference between DO and MD scores is negligible. On average, DO scores are between 1 and 3 points lower. Generally, DO programs often have slightly lower MCAT scores compared to MD programs.
However, this does not reflect on the ease or difficulty of school or the student performance in either program. Because the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) score is not the only factor in admission decisions. Grade-point average, recommendation letters, and interviews also play a huge role.
What is better, an MD or DO? That entirely depends on your career goals and view on medicine. If you have a more holistic view of medicine, practicing as a DO might be a perfect fit.
If you care more about reputation, a potentially higher salary (not guaranteed), and want the option to practice outside of the United States, becoming an MD is likely best for you. But is an MD better than a DO? Not necessarily; both provide valuable contributions to the medical community.