Is an MD Better Than a DO? What’s the Difference?

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.

However, the differences between getting a DO or an MD degree might be enough to sway you one way or the other. So, what’s the difference between an MD vs DO? Is an MD better than a DO? Find out now with our comprehensive guide!

What is an MD?

An MD stands for Medical Doctor and is a person comprehensively trained to practice medicine. An individual must go through medical school and a residency to earn the title of MD, and is then able to practice general medicine. An MD is synonymous with allopathic medicine or Doctor of Medicine.

Photo by Ani Kollesh via Unsplash

What is a DO?

So, what kind of doctor is a DO? If you have not heard of a DO, or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (also known as an osteopath), you may not realize that this is another type of medical training that is quite similar to that of an MD.

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. Some Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine also incorporate more blended healthy lifestyle techniques with western medicine.

Similarities Between MDs and DOs

The schooling for an MD and DO are virtually the same, except that a DO must do an additional 300-500 hours of hands-on musculoskeletal manipulation training. Both degree paths require a four-year degree before entering either variation of medical programs.

Both the MD and DO undergo training in family medicine, internal medicine, surgery, emergency care, public health, prevention, 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. The main variation in schooling is (for DOs) the further study of the musculoskeletal system and more of an emphasis on a holistic philosophy, alongside 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. A keystone theory of osteopathic medicine is that proper form and function in the body helps to facilitate healing.

Salary

The average annual income for a primary care physician in the United States was $170,690 as of 2020, 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.

Residency

Both an MD and a DO must complete a residency in the final two years of medical school. A DO can select either a residency through an MD program or a DO program. It is not difficult for most medical school students to get into a residency, although some residencies are more challenging for a DO to get accepted into.

Do MDs or DOs Have Higher Acceptance Rates?

Is DO easier than MD? Technically speaking, it is more challenging to get into a DO program simply because there are far fewer accredited schools for these. 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 2018-2019, the mean GPA for MD programs was a 3.72, while it was a 3.54 for those in a DO curriculum.

When applying to programs, MD medical schools use AMCAS, and DO medical schools use AACOMAS.

Reputation

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. There are more MDs than DOs, and because of this standardized acceptance of MDs, they often are considered slightly more reputable.

A DO is not to be mistaken with 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

International opportunities are a significant difference between an MD and a DO. An MD from the United States is recognized throughout most of the world. A DO is not, so international work is limited for a DO.

MD vs. DO

  1. Schooling is similar, but DO programs study more musculoskeletal/holistic care
  2. Pay is virtually the same as a primary care physician with either a DO or MD
  3. More MDs go into specialized fields (both are capable)
  4. Some select residency programs are more challenging to get into as a DO
  5. Far more schools offer MD programs than DO programs
  6. An MD can work internationally; a DO cannot

Other FAQs

Can DOs write prescriptions?

Yes, a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine can write prescriptions, just like an MD.

Which is more difficult to obtain, a DO or an MD?

A DO degree is more challenging to obtain simply because there are far fewer schools with DO programs, and therefore the rejection rate is higher. However, there is possibly some correlation between the slightly higher GPA average of MD students and the difficulty of MD programs.

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. However, this does not reflect on the ease or difficulty of school or the student performance in either program.

Conclusion

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.

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