By: Ryan Kelly
Thinking about applying to a DO school? You’re not alone. Each year, more and more pre-meds are considering DO schools as a viable option. Most pre-meds start their journey to medical school by focusing on allopathic (MD) schools. Part of the reason is that MD schools are more prominent. For example, of the top 50 medical schools ranked in primary care, only one - Michigan State - is a DO school (and 0 of the top 50 ranked for research are DO schools). The other reason is ignorance - most pre-meds just don’t know that DO schools exist, or if they do know, they don’t know what makes these schools distinct.
When the time comes to apply to medical schools, pre-meds see just how competitive it is to get in and start looking at other options. We believe that DO schools should be included on the school list for many pre-meds, so we’ve assembled what we consider to be the five most convincing reasons to apply:
#1 - Excellent Residency Placement Rates
We have good news for all hopeful doctors. According to data from the National Resident Matching Program, the number of active osteopathic students/graduates continued to grow in 2016. Of the 2,982 who submitted rank order lists of programs, 2,396 matched to PGY-1 (postgraduate year one) positions, making their match rate of 80.3% the highest in over 30 years. That 80.3% number doesn’t even include the residency positions that are just for DO’s. When you include both match options, many of the best DO schools have a 90% success rate, not just of matching but of matching into their first- or second-choice specialties.
#2 - You Can Enter Any Specialty You Want
For graduates of osteopathic medical schools applying through the NRMP Match program, the top five specialty tracks were Internal Medicine (498), Family Medicine (381), Pediatrics (353), Emergency Medicine (224), and Anesthesiology (213).
Overall, DOs matched to 30 different specialties (out of 2,982 applicants) compared to 46 specialties for MDs (out of 18,187 applicants). There were 15,205 more MD applicants than DO ones, yet only 16 more specialties were represented as a result.
The point is that DOs can go into almost any specialty, so being a DO doesn’t limit your options by much.
#3 - You Can Hedge Your Admissions Bets
The phrase “hedging your bets” might carry a negative connotation, especially when considering the stigma surrounding DO schools as a “backup plan.”
Is there a stigma against osteopathic physicians?
But for many students, this approach makes perfect sense. If they’ve acquired any DO shadowing or volunteering experience, then filling out the AACOMAS primary application seems like a smart time investment. It’s not a cakewalk, but it’s also not too cumbersome to repurpose your MD application for DO schools. It mostly involves cutting some characters and tweaking your “why medicine” reasons into “why osteopathy” statements.
Since DO schools are a bit easier to get into, students (especially those concerned about their GPAs or MCAT scores) will significantly increase their chances of getting in somewhere by applying to both allopathic and osteopathic programs. And since DO students can apply to residencies of both types, it seems like a no-brainer to hedge your bets.
#4 - Osteopathy is Becoming More Popular
The shortage of doctors is predicted to worsen in the near future. By 2020, workforce experts predict a shortage of more than 45,000 primary care physicians in the US.
According to a 2014 New York Times article, 22% of all new medical school graduates come out of osteopathic schools, which is more than double the percentage 30 years ago. Between 1983 and 2000 alone, 16 new DO schools were opened. In 1980, there were just 14 schools across the country and 4,940 students. Now there are 30 schools, including state universities in New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia and Michigan, offering instruction at 40 different locations to more than 23,000 students.
Osteopathic medicine is becoming increasingly more accepted by the medical establishment, including the residency programs that lead to licensure.
#5 - OMM Provides an Additional Tool for Treating Patients
Osteopathic manipulative medicine (OMM) is one of the biggest differences between how DOs and MDs practice. It involves therapeutic application of manual pressure in order to treat structural and functional issues in the bones, joints, tissues, and muscles of the body. By utilizing the relationship between the neuromusculoskeletal system and the rest of the body, it restores functionality and removes barriers to motion and healing.
OMM has many benefits for doctors when treating patients, and having it as part of their repertoire gives doctors a non-invasive and medication-free treatment option for many types of joint and muscle pain. It can be administered safely in combination with other medical treatments to improve outcomes.
Please keep in mind that our top five reasons come with a larger caveat: you should only apply to osteopathic schools if you ACTUALLY want to be a DO. Otherwise, your application will be unconvincing, especially compared to candidates who are wedded to the discipline.