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What’s the difference between a DO to an MD?

Physicians of osteopathic medicine (DO) and medical doctors (MD) are two groups of licensed doctors who can practice medical care in the USA.

All DO’s and MD’s require comprehensive medical study. Many people go to medical schools offering MDs but the popularity of DO degrees is growing.

An MD is a degree in traditional medicine, while a DO uses a holistic, mind-body-spirit approach to care. In the U.S., all types of doctors are issued licenses by the same licensing boards, and they must follow the same requirements for medical practice.

For more detail on the similarities and differences between DOs and MDs, and how it impacts their medical practice, keep reading.

DO vs. MD

The main difference between DOs and MDs lies with the treatment approach. DOs use an osteopathic treatment approach while MDs use an allopathic treatment approach.

An allopathic approach relies on modern medicine based on research, and it often uses medications or surgery to treat and control various conditions.

An osteopathic approach to care centers around the entire body. Often DO’s concentrate on preventive care.

A person seeking a DO degree should expect to engage in an additional 200 hours or more of hands-on training on the musculoskeletal system, the American Medical Association (AMA) says.

On the other hand, an MD’s allopathic focus means they adopt a scientific approach to the diagnosis and treatment of individual medical conditions.

Nearly 75 percent of all medical students receive an MD degree according to the AMA.

What they do

Both DOs and MDs can pursue whatever specialties they choose in terms of practices.

However, more DOs than MDs pursue careers in primary care specialties according to the AMA. They found that 57 percent of DOs pursued specialties of primary care in 2018. This covers:

  • 31.9% family physicians
  • 17.8% internists
  • 6.8% pediatricians

In the same year, 32% of MDs pursued primary care, which includes:

  • 12.7% family physicians or general practice
  • 12.9% internists
  • 6.5% pediatricians

A student considering either course, however, does not always need to worry which route to take.

Because both programs lead to licensing, the program a student chooses is starting to become less relevant, according to St. George’s University and the AMA.

In the end, prospective students will consider the school and program in order to determine which one suits them the best.


As for education, MD and DO programs have similar requirements. To attend either program a person needs a very high grade point average (GPA) and a medical college admission test (MCAT) score.

In the 2019–2020 academic year, more than 53,000 students applied for medical schools in the United States.

Of those students, the average MCAT score was 506.1, and the total GPA average was 3.58. Both these averages were slightly higher than those of school years 2017–2018 and 2018–2019.

A student of either program needs to complete 4 years of study once he is in medical school. Their training consists of both scientific and clinical rotational courses.

The main difference is that those studying on the musculoskeletal system for a DO degree need to complete an additional 200 hours of study.

The difference in approach also means the students taking different licensing exams in DO and MD programs. According to the University of St. George, all exams take place in three parts, and usually:

  • The first part comes at the end of the second year.
  • The second part comes during the fourth year.
  • The third part comes during the first year of the student’s residency.

The licensing tests will vary, too. Students pursuing a DO will take the Comprehensive Examination of Osteopathic Medical Licensing, but they may also take the U.S. Medical Examination Licensing (USMLE). Students pursuing an MD are taking the USMLE as well.


Both DOs and MDs are licensed United States physicians. We require rigorous programs of pursue and residency to receive licensing.

The main difference between the two systems is that DOs practice osteopathic medicine, whereas allopathic medicine is taught by MDs.

In other words, a DO would study a preventive, “whole person” approach to illness in medical school, while MDs are more likely to learn how to diagnose and specifically treat a medical condition by looking at its signs and symptoms.

This does not, however, mean that MD training does not teach a holistic or preventive approach to dealing with medical conditions.

Unlike MD students, DO students will also go through hands-on musculoskeletal training, called manipulative osteopathic therapy.

However, in the end either medical school route will focus on acquiring and using up-to-date medical knowledge and providing adequate medical care. The program which a prospective student pursues will therefore be largely a matter of individual preference.

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