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Osteopathy is a fast growing profession quickly gaining popularity among patients and health care providers. Once seen as the "alternative" practice to allopathic medicine it is rapidly becoming a mainstream health care profession. Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.'s) are very similar to their allopathic MD counterparts. Although they have the same prescribing and practice rights, osteopathic physicians take a more holistic view of the body and may often use physical and manual manipulation to help prevent and treat diseases. They also place a greater focus on the musculoskeletal system. Work hours and schedules vary greatly. If you are interested in health and disease and enjoy taking a more full bodied approach to these issues, Osteopathy may be right for you.
Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine have a rigorous education that begins with a four year college diploma. Although some schools may accept students who have completed certain course requirements without obtaining an undergraduate degree, this is very rare. Students may major in any field, however they must complete certain course requirements. These usually include a year of chemistry with lab, a year of organic chemistry with lab, a year of biology with lab and a year of physics with lab. Some schools may have additional math and english requirements. It is best to check the requirements of each school you are interested in.
Once finished with their undergraduate diploma, future Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine complete four years of training at a college of osteopathy. This training is very similar to the training found at an MD school, with two years of classroom learning and two years of practical rotations on hospital wards. They also receive training in the practice and theory of manual manipulation and alignment of the body.
After training, osteopathic graduates complete residencies in their chosen specialty. Although there are some residency programs specifically for Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine, most positions are in programs that accept M.D. and D.O. applicants. Upon completion of residency D.O.'s can either begin practicing or further specialize by completing a fellowship.
In order to gain admission to a school of Osteopathy you must take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). Most D.O. schools will request to see your score on this exam, however they tend to be slightly more forgiving than M.D. schools and look at the entire applicant rather than setting score cut offs. The MCAT consists of three multiple choice sections one covering the biological sciences, one covering physical sciences and one covering verbal reasoning. There is also an essay section of the exam in which you must answer two essay questions.
The licensing exam for the college of osteopathy is called the COMLEX. It is a three step process identical to the USMLE for M.D students. In addition, D.O. students may opt to also take the USMLE, although they are not required to do so. Osteopathic residencies will not require a USMLE score. Several allopathic residencies do require a USMLE score before they will consider a student for admission, however many do not. It is important to check with all programs you are interested in before making the decision to not take the USMLE.
Applying to a college of Osteopathy is done in several steps. The first is filling out the central application at the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service (AACOMAS). This primary application includes an essay and your transcript as well as information on your extracurricular activities. Many schools have different deadlines for this application so attempt to finish it in time to meet even the earliest deadline.
Once a school has reviewed your AACOMAS application they may opt to send you a secondary application. These vary widely by school. Some have earlier deadlines than other. Some may require additional essays and information. Almost all will require an additional fee. This is also the time many schools ask for letters of recommendation. Try to fill out applications with earlier deadlines first. Remember the earlier you complete these applications the better.
After reviewing your secondary application most schools will make a decision on whether they want to interview you, or not. These interviews tend to include a presentation about the school, a tour given by current students and 1-4 interviews with faculty. Remain composed during these interviews and do not get flustered. Often when you think an interview is going badly it may be going very well. Do not give up no matter how awkwardly you think it is going.
After the interview you must wait for the school to give you their final decision. If you are placed on a waiting list for admission continue to express interest in the school and send them periodic updates, but do not go overboard. An update every two months is appropriate. An update every two days is ridiculous and bothersome.
Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine may enter any specialty that allopathic doctors can. If you would like to hear more about any of these specialties please contact us and let us know.