An osteopathic doctor is trained differently from an allopathic (MD) doctor. This page was designed to answer specific questions about curriculum differences in a Osteopathic Doctor's (DO) curriculum and a Allopathic curriculum (MD).
By far the biggest difference in curriculum is the inclusion of teaching osteopathic manipulative treatment, or OMT. In addition to learning the basics of first and second year, Osteopathic doctors learn to use their hands to diagnose and treat specific illnesses. To put is in the simplest terms I know how, they learn how to manipulate joints (like a chiropractor), relive muscle tension and pain, and influence the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems in the body to achieve their desired level of treatment.
The best way to explain this to an MD doctor is to use examples. The one I usually use is a carotid massage. Most doctors learn how to use carotid massage to slow down the heart and get it pumping more regularly. This is a way of influencing the sympathetic system by tricking the baroreceptors on the carotid. DO's would influence other areas of the body in a similar way.
Many people apply to osteopathic schools thinking they will get a more "holsistic approach to medicine." To be perfectly frank, that is just not true. You don't get more education on nutrition or prevention or exersice or anything else that might be expected from this idea of holistic medicine. You will ONLY get this OMT. OMT is great and works for plenty of things, however, most DO physcians never use it, they never refer to it, and they never mention it to their patients. The majority just don't see enough value in it to use it professionally. If you are applying to a DO school you should be aware of this, so there are no misconceptions.
The time spend in the lab learning OMT must be made up somewhere. Most often, osteopathic medical schools have more contact hours than allopathic schools, meaning they are in class for more hours of the week.
But that is not all. Osteopaths also get less training in biochemistry, specifically genetics and metabolic diseases. Because of this, osteopathic medical students have a lower average on the USMLE (the MD licensing exam) than do the MD's. They just don't receive the same education.
In the application process, osteopathic schools want to see that you are educated about what an osteopath is and is not. They want you to be able to have a good answer when they ask you about why you are applying to an osteopathic medical school. Get help on medical school interviews here. On that page I talk about preparing one-liner answers to important questions that most people get on an interview. For osteopathic schools you should add to that list a one-line answer as to why osteopathic medicine.
Your answer should include what osteopathic medicine is, why it would be beneficial to your patients, and why you are passionate for it as well. Make sure to think about this and talk to a few people about it so you have a clear idea. If you can, even go see a doctor who specialized in OMT and have them do some work on you. You'll feel great, and have an experience you can use in the interviews.
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