An osteopathic doctor, or D.O., trains in an osteopathic college, while a doctor of medicine, or M.D., trains in a conventional medical school. Osteopaths treat the whole patient, often using manipulation in addition to drugs or surgery. However, the D.O.degree is no shortcut to a physician's career. An osteopath must complete undergraduate college, professional school and residency training and pass licensing exams, a process that takes a minimum of 11 years.
Undergraduate College and Admissions
Most students complete a four-year bachelor's degree before beginning osteopathic school, similar to pre-med training for M.D.s. You don't need a particular major, but you must take the necessary prerequisites, including English, math, chemistry, biology and physics. Because admissions are competitive, good grades are important, but so are personal qualities such as leadership. The American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine recommends spending time following around, or shadowing, an osteopathic physician. This will give you a better idea of the job and strengthen your application for osteopathic school.
Osteopathic college takes four years and generally runs parallel to the schooling of M.D.s. Prospective D.O.s spend the first two years in classes and the last two years in clinical rotations. The studies include traditional medical school subjects plus osteopathic specialties. Coursework commonly includes anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, pathology, osteopathic principles, osteopathic practices, psychiatry, family medicine, pediatrics and pharmacology. During years three and four, students complete supervised clinical work in hospitals and clinics. Some of their rotations include emergency medicine, internal medicine, osteopathic principles and practices, neurology and radiology.
D.O. graduates spend an additional three to eight years in internships or residencies learning a specialty, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Osteopaths can choose among specialties, including surgery or psychiatry. The time you'll need depends on your choice, but most D.O.s focus on family practice or some other type of primary care. Osteopaths don't have their own hospitals, but they aren't second-class citizens when it comes to residencies. They can also use the National Resident Matching Program, the same as M.D.s. Including undergraduate college, osteopathic school and residency, it can take up to 16 years to complete training.
Licensing and Board Certification
All states require D.O.s and M.D.s to jump through similar hoops to become licensed. The states make their own rules, but generally D.O. licensing requires you to graduate from an accredited osteopathic college, complete a specialty residency and pass the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination, or COMLEX-USA, similar to the M.D. licensing exam. Like M.D.s, osteopaths who want to be board-certified in a specialty can take qualifying exams when they've finished their residency. The American Osteopathic Association is the governing body for board certification and offers exams in 18 different specialties. Upon primary certification, subspecialities including cardiology and geriatrics can be pursued..
- American Osteopathic Association: Frequently Asked Questions
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: How to Become a Physician or Surgeon
- American Osteopathic Association: What is a DO?
- American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine: General Admission Requirements
- The Princeton Review: Becoming a Doctor of Osteopathy (DO)
- American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine: Overview of the Four-Year Curriculum