MSD Timeline The Complete Guide to Medical School Admissions
General Prerequisites: Every medical school will have some type of requirements in the following disciplines. These prerequisites will generally need to be either completed or in-progress by the time that you submit your application. Courses taken at community colleges will count toward these requirements. However, most schools require that the prerequisite courses are taken on a numerical grading system and not a pass/fail system.
Biology – 1 year with Lab
General Chemistry – 1 year with Lab
Organic Chemistry – 1 year with Lab
Physics – 1 year with Lab
English – 1 year
- Math (Calculus, Statistics, etc) – 1 year
Recommended Prerequisites: There are a handful of medical schools that acknowledge some of the following courses as strict requirements; however, the majority of other schools will categorize them as ‘recommended’, or ‘highly recommended’. Biochemistry is one topic that’s quickly becoming an unspoken prerequisite, not only for its relevance but also because it’s heavily tested on the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). As a premed student, it’s generally a good idea to get your bases covered and to take a semester/quarter of each. Note that psychology and sociology are both new topics that have also been incorporated into the revamped 2015 MCAT.
- Inorganic Chemistry
Undergraduate Major: Does it matter what you choose? No. Medical schools have no preference over what you decide to pursue for your undergraduate major. A majority of premed students tend to fall into the majors of biology, biochemistry, or physiology, but this is by no means a requirement. No matter what you declare as your major, as long as you fulfill their course requirements, you will be considered for admission. Just remember that different medical schools will have slightly different requirements in their prerequisite undergraduate coursework.
Overview: The MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test) is a standardized test administered by the AAMC. Taking the MCAT is required for all applicants who wish to apply to medical schools within the US. There are no limits surrounding the number of re-takes; however, most schools generally frown upon applicants who take it more than 3 times. Every MCAT score that you get will also be on file for medical schools to see. The MCAT exam is administered electronically via third party testing centers, runs approximately 7 hours and 30 minutes, and consists of 4 different sections:
- Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems (Chem/Phys) covers Physics and Chemistry
- 59 multiple-choice questions
- 95-minute section
- Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS) covers reading comprehension and logical reasoning
- 53 multiple-choice questions
- 90-minute section
- Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems (Bio/Bioc) covers Biology and Biochemistry
- 59 multiple-choice questions
- 95-minute section
- Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior (Psyc/Soc) covers Psychology and Sociology
- 59 multiple-choice questions
- 95-minute section
Cost: Taking the MCAT exam costs $310 (or $120 if you qualify for Fee Assistance Program).
Scheduling: AAMC holds 25 different test dates spread throughout the year from January to September. You can find the exact dates here. Note that it takes around 4 weeks for your MCAT score to be released.
Studying: The average student dedicates around 2 months to prepare for the MCAT. Your most valuable study resources will be review books and practice exams. A good benchmark is to take 5-6 full-length exams before your test date.
Voiding: You are given the option to void your MCAT exam right after completing it, meaning that your exam will not get graded and you will not receive a score. This is only a good option if are unable to reschedule your test date and still feel vastly underprepared.
Scoring: The MCAT is graded from a range of 482 – 528, with the score of 500 set at the median 50 percentile mark. Aside from your cumulative score, you will also receive a breakdown of your subsection scores that each range from 118 – 132, with 125 set as the average.
- Competitive scores for Allopathic MD: 508-515
- Competitive score for Osteopathic DO: 501-510
Keep in mind that these are generalizations, and that the MCAT is only one component of your overall application. However, due to fluctuations in rigor between different universities as well as grade inflation, the MCAT remains one of the best ways of comparing different applicants on an equal level playing field. Detailed below are the admission percentages and GPA/MCAT statistics from the 2016/17 cycle for all allopathic applicants.
- Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems (Chem/Phys) covers Physics and Chemistry
Grades and MCAT speak to a candidate’s academic threshold, but it’s a poor indicator for assessing an individual’s character or passion. Medical schools aim to gauge an applicant’s personality and “humanism” based on their extracurricular involvement during undergrad and/or after graduation. A fine nugget of SDN wisdom states that ‘Numbers get you to the door, but ECs get you through the door.’ Your extracurriculars will therefore help admission committees develop a comprehensive image of who you are, and more importantly how these individual qualities might make you a good doctor. Pulled directly from the AMCAS application, extracurricular activities can range from any of the categories below:
- Artistic Endeavor
- Community Service – Nonclinical
- Community service – Clinical
- Conferences Attended
- Extracurricular Activities
- Honors Awards Recognition
- Intercollegiate Athletics
- Leadership – Not listed elsewhere
- Paid Employment – clinical
- Paid Employment – nonclinical
- Physician Shadowing
- Teaching/ Tutor/ Teaching Assistant
Out of everything listed above, clinical volunteering and physician shadowing hold the highest priority. Not only are they invaluable opportunities to validate your motivations in pursuing medicine, obtaining this clinical exposure has also morphed into an invisible barrier of entry for medical school admissions. It doesn’t matter if you have a 4.0 GPA and a 528 MCAT, schools want to see that you have demonstrated commitment toward exploring the healthcare profession. From volunteering on the hospital floor to working as a certified nurses assistant, there are many ways to reflect this initiative, but the underlying principle is that you’re able to gain direct patient contact and to become more familiar with the healthcare delivery process.
Undergraduate research can also be an important extracurricular endeavor, especially if you’re applying to a research-intensive medical school. This will be covered in extensive detail down below. Otherwise, non-academic endeavors such as collegiate athletics, military service, musical performance, or artistic pursuits are also great ways to demonstrate your qualifications, work ethic, and personal achievements. It’s important to note that medical schools are looking for well-rounded candidates who have shown strong dedication and service beyond simply meeting their academic requirements. *Click on the subsections below for further details regarding the importance of each activity and how you can leverage them to strengthen your application.
Logistics For Writing About Activities
On your primary AMCAS application (MD), you will have up to 700 characters for each activity to explain what you did, and what you’ve gained from the experience. You can also label 3 of your activities as “meaningful”. For these meaningful activities, you get an additional 1325 characters to elaborate in more detail. This is an optimal space to write about any personal growth or adversities you have faced, and convey how it has either shaped your decision to pursue medicine or has made you a more qualified candidate.
AACOMAS (DO) differ slightly in their activities section. Although the extracurricular categories remain generally the same, AACOMAS instead poses a 600 character limit for each activity. Additional, you will not have the option to categorize any “meaningful” activities.
Medical schools seek individuals who display a high level of altruism and service. This can be achieved in many ways, but the most common avenue is through engaging in community service. Some common options that premed students get involved in are:
- Homeless shelters
- Soup kitchens
- Philanthropy events
- Environmental preservation
That being said, these type of volunteering experiences won’t appeal to everyone. Instead of trying to force yourself to do something you’re not interested in, I recommend getting creative and finding an opportunity in something that you’re passionate about.
The underlying requirement is that you’re donating your time to an organization or group without expecting any monetary rewards; however, this doesn’t mean that you’re not allowed to gain personal fulfillment. A personal example would be my passion for teaching, which led me to seek out opportunities where I provided free tutoring for local underserved students. Other creative ideas that I’ve witnessed are students who got involved with coaching for youth sports teams. There are also musically talented students who found opportunities in performing at hospices or nursing homes. My favorite was a student who had a passion for cooking, and turned it into a creative volunteering opportunity by fundraising for groceries, making batches of meals, and delivering it to homeless individuals throughout her community.
What To Avoid
The biggest mistake that applicants tend to make is to overanalyze or worry about what the admission committees might think. This often leads them to volunteer at places they don’t enjoy simply for the sake of checking boxes. Don’t go down this road, as medical schools will see right through it. Instead, find opportunities that you can talk enthusiastically about later on during your interview. Ask yourself this question: If you can’t put it on your med school application, would you still do it?
Clinical experience is a foundational component of your medical school application. Admission committees want to see that you’ve demonstrated commitment toward exploring the world of patient care. From volunteering in a hospital to working as an EMT, your goal is to get hands-on experience, develop a realistic understanding of healthcare, and reflect on both the rewards and challenges of a medical career. Medical training will not be easy, and schools want to ensure that you’ve tested out the waters and have realistic expectations for your future career. Furthermore, the meaningful patient experiences that you accumulate will naturally translate into the bedrock of your motivations in becoming a physician.
What’s Considered Clinical Experience?
Clinical experience is defined by working in environment that provides direct patient contact. This means you’re in the same room as the patient. Hospitals are of course the most common. Other options include outpatient specialty clinics, emergency rooms, urgent care centers, hospice care, rehabilitation centers, or community health clinics. Nursing homes are in a grey area due to the different levels of medical care they provide.
Unpaid Clinical Experience
While searching for clinical volunteering, the hard part isn’t finding opportunities, it’s finding valuable opportunities. Take hospital volunteering for example. It’s easy to find a position working in the front desk or lobby, which seems appealing because you can quickly rack up hours without doing much. However, be honest with yourself. How much patient contact are you receiving, and what are you truly getting out of it besides just logging hours?
Almost all hospitals offer some type of volunteering opportunities; however, not all volunteers are created equal. An individual’s scope of practice will differ widely between hospitals. Due to liability and hospital policies, some will only allow you to restock supplies, while others may permit direct patient contact. There are also outside organizations that work with hospitals and train students to perform basic patient care tasks. During my undergrad, I was apart of an organization called COPE Health Scholars, which permitted students to rotate through different hospital floors, feed and ambulate patients, and even take vital signs.
Search for quality over quantity. Find an opportunity that will at least allow you to talk to some patients. Ask your volunteer coordinator about your specific scope of practice. Premed advisors at colleges and universities are also good resources. Once you have started, maximize your experience by taking initiative. In many cases, volunteers won’t have a constant workload and will need to find proactive ways to help. There may also be stretches of downtime. Go talk to patients. Hospitals are filled with them. Learn about their lives and start developing your bedside manner. This might be the only instance in your medical career where you have the time to simply sit down and chat with a patient.
Paid Clinical Experience
Additionally, there are a handful of paid clinical jobs that are popular among premed students. Some require extensive prerequisite training while others do not. Some are part-time positions but most are full-time. With gap years becoming much more common, obtaining these jobs have become a great way to gain invaluable clinical exposure while also earning some money. Provided below are a list of basic job descriptions for the most popular medically related jobs.
- Emergency Medical Technician (EMTs): First responders medics, provide acute intervention and deliver patients to local hospitals (some are unpaid)
- Certified Nurse’s Assistant (CNAs): Perform axillary nursing tasks such as ambulating, cleaning rooms, taking patients to the bathroom, collecting vitals, etc.
- Medical Scribe: Transcribe a patient’s medical charts for physicians and document patient histories, review of systems, physical exam findings, medical decision making, etc
- ER Tech: Similar to CNAs, most ER techs also have a wider scope of practice such as the ability to do EKGs or help with minor procedures
- Medical Assistant: Work mostly in outpatient clinics, responsible for starting patient workups, taking vitals, and gathering quick patient histories
- Laboratory Assistant/Technologist: Perform experiments or basic laboratory techniques in the setting of academic labs, diagnostic labs, or pharmaceutical companies
Keep a journal or diary of all the meaningful experiences that you’ve had, especially notable connections that you’ve develop with a particular patient. Witnessed an open heart surgery? Write it down. See someone die? Write that down as well. Just don’t violate HIPAA. You will thank yourself later on when you draft your personal statement or activities, for you can refer back to your journal collection. This also allows for great self reflection and the ability to track your own progression of experiences.
Doctors are the leaders of the patient care team. Although having explicit leadership experience is not a requirement by any means, many admission committees value applicants who have stepped into such a role. For this reason, demonstrating leadership qualities within your experiences can only help further strengthen your application.
You don’t need to acquire fancy titles, or to become the president of an organization. In fact, many students may already have leadership experience even without realizing it. Think back, perhaps there was a research project you spearheaded, or a community event that you helped to plan. Detailed below are many ways to demonstrate leadership aside from being the president or director-of-whatever in an organization.
How to Gain Leadership Experience?
Rather than focusing explicitly on stated “leadership” jobs or positions, it’s generally a better idea to work your way up through an organization you’re already involved in. Learning the basics and demonstrating competence, whether it be a research lab or volunteer program, is essential before you can start taking on managerial roles or responsibilities. In addition, it’s a better idea to focus on one long-term leadership position rather than collecting a handful of different titles that lack any real substance. It’s easy to get caught up in so called ‘leadership positions’ where you’re really not doing anything productive, which begs the question…
How is Leadership Defined?
- Management: To most people, leadership is defined by managing or being responsible for a group of individuals. While this may be true, keep in mind that leadership goes far beyond telling other people what to do. Effective leaders also have the ability to motivate others, inspire change, and provide mentorship for those who need it.
- Implementation: Leadership does not have to equate to management. It could also speak to the ability to implement an idea into specific actions or plans. Think of entrepreneurs who build companies from scratch or leaders who start non-profit organizations. Implementation leadership is often met with many roadblocks and challenges, requiring both flexibility and problem-solving skills to succeed.
- Collaboration: One of the most crucial yet overlooked aspects of leadership is the ability to collaborate. An effective leader knows when to take the lead, but they also know when to cede control. It’s also important to play to the strengths of your teammates. Physicians may be the leader of the patient care team, but they heavily rely on nurses, PAs, and allied health professionals in order to do their job.
The road to physicianhood is a rigorous process. Another piece of SDN wisdom states that ‘Medical schools want to know that you know what you’re getting yourself into’. There’s no better way to gain this exposure and learn what a doctor actually does than to follow one around, hence the importance of shadowing. In seeing their day-to-day workflow, you’ll see exactly how they interact with patients, consult with their colleagues, and maybe witness a few procedure. Additionally, medicine branches out into an exhaustive list of specialties and subspecialties, with a different type of physician for every body system that you can imagine. Shadowing therefore provides a glimpse into this world as you’re able to explore the nuances of different medical specialties.
What Should You Do/Learn While Shadowing?
As the name suggests, you stand in dead silence like a shadow. Some doctors might grant you exclusive privilege to speak, in which case you’re a verbal shadow. I kid, of course, as shadowing is all about asking thoughtful questions and exploring a physician’s responsibilities, but don’t go overboard. Remember that they still have a job to do. Use common sense and don’t bombard them if they are extremely busy. It’s a good idea to be prepared with a pen, notepad, and some specific questions in mind. Some physicians will be more eager to teach/ talk with you than others, so take what you can get. Also, under no circumstance are you able to touch patients or deliver patient care while shadowing.
Your goal for shadowing is not to see every speciality, nor to get caught up with the pathophysiology behind the diseases that you come across. Instead, focus in on how the doctor does their job. Pay close attention to their attitude, bedside manner, and body language. How exactly are they communicating, comforting, or educating their patients? If you have an opportunity to shadow more than one type of specialty, then compare and contrast the two. What were some similarities, and what did you like or dislike about each specialty?
To that end, students often feel a sense of obligation to view everything they see in a positive light. I’ll tell you a secret, you don’t have to. And medical schools don’t expect you to. It’s perfectly normal to be turned off by a certain specialties. In fact, recognizing these aspects demonstrates more maturity and insight than otherwise. In addition, it’s not uncommon to witness the daily struggles that a physician might face. Administrative pressure, stringent insurance regulations, and disobedient patients are all common examples of challenges that doctors face in their day to day work.
How Do You Obtain Shadowing Opportunities?
In order to obtain shadowing, you must personally reach out and specifically make a connection with a physician, hospital, or clinic. Many will require you to fill out paperwork and immunization forms before hand. For those who are lucky enough to have medical doctors in your immediate network, start there and ask if they have colleagues who you can shadow. If you don’t know anyone who is a doctor, you don’t have to worry. I have outlined a few methods that you can try, all with varying degrees of success:
- Cold calling: Call medical clinics near you and ask if you can shadow as a premed student. This tends to have the lowest rate of success, but who knows, you might just get lucky. Stopping by their clinic and asking in person will usually be more effective.
- Ask your doctor: Next time you go into your doctor’s office, ask if he has any colleagues that you could get in touch with. Most doctors now practice in physician groups, so see if you can track down a few potential leads this way.
- Volunteer & networking: This method is the most effective in my opinion. You first get a volunteering position at a hospital, then you approach a doctor you want to shadow and ask them in person. Make sure to introduce yourself and let him know you’re a volunteer. Since you’ve already completed the hospital on-boarding process, they’ll view you as less of a liability, and may be more inclined to say yes.
- Pre-med clubs: Some premed clubs at universities will have ties to local teaching hospitals or physician networks, and is able to coordinate shadowing for their members. Keep in mind though that they usually reserve these opportunities for the more senior/active club members. Nonetheless, the fact that they’re arranging the entire opportunity remains a huge advantage.
The marvels of modern medicine would not be possible without the efforts of basic research. Whether it be pharmacological intervention or stem-cell therapy, research provides the translational bridge between bench science and clinical application. Medical schools will vastly differ in how they view research. Some don’t mind one way or the other, while some view it as an unspoken prerequisite. Examples of research-intensive schools include Stanford, UCSF, Vanderbilt, JHU, and UPenn. A good way to check is to view the amount of NIH funding that a school receives. These schools place an emphasis on students who are naturally curious and hold a strong passion for scientific investigation.
What Classifies As Research?
Most premed students get involved in laboratory research. This constitutes any position where you’re working with chemicals, drugs, bacteria, virus, animals, etc. Your job description will vary depending on the type of lab, your past experiences, and seniority. Most lab assistants will start off with pipetting, preparing cultures, running gels, and other basic tasks that don’t require much critical thinking. As you progress, you might gain more responsibility from your principle investigator (PI), or be put in charge of your own experiment. Due to high yearly turnover, there is usually a lot of growth potential in undergraduate research labs. Enthusiasm and curiosity will often be rewarded with additional responsibilities and more interesting experiments.
How To Get Research Experiences?
Take advantage of your University and reach out to its faculty. A simple search of ‘[blank] research at [blank] University’ will yield adequate results. Send them an email that provides a background of your studies, why you’re interested in working at their lab, and your resume/CVs.
Another way is to reach out to students who are currently working in the lab that you want. Meetings with students is a whole lot easier than meeting with a PI. They will be more in tune with everyday responsibilities and might even be able to grant you a referral. Additionally, you can also ask your science professors, who are familiar with their department’s faculty and can point you in the right direction if you know what specific type of research you’re interested in.
What Should You Learn From Research?
- Critical thinking when applying the scientific method to exploring research topics, including problem solving, protocol design, and/or data analysis
- Resilience and flexibility in dealing with contamination or experimental failure
- Ability to read, understand, and analyze other scientific literature within your field of study.
- Ability to present your research to a lay person and educate them on its significance.
A publication means that a student has authorship on a scientific paper that is published in a formal peer-reviewed scientific journal. School or local newspapers do not count toward scientific publications. Having a publication under your belt greatly enhances your research resume, for it gives you something to show for and demonstrates that you were active contributor in your research project.
Miscellaneous and FAQ
Aside from the ‘traditional’ extracurriculars, you will have the opportunity to write about experiences that are more unique to yourself. This can range anywhere from artistic endeavors to collegiate athletics, musical performances to military service. In addition, you can also include random or quirky activities that help you stand out as an individual. Remember that schools are getting thousands and thousands of applications each year, so any off the cuff experiences that are within normal professional boundaries can become great ways to distinguish yourself from the crowd.
Will I Need Every Extracurricular Activity?
No. None of the extracurricular activities are ‘required’; however, as mentioned earlier, there are certain extracurriculars that a majority of applicants will have, so you are putting yourself at a disadvantage by missing out on these experiences. On the other hand, you don’t want to overload your schedule to the point where your grades begin to suffer. Your academics should always come first. It therefore becomes a steady balancing act between getting good grades and getting involved with extracurriculars.
What are “Cookie Cutter” Extracurriculars?
Cookie cutter ECs refer to the extracurricular experiences that almost every competitive premed will have on their application. These include volunteering, shadowing, and research. As much as medical schools desire individuality and diversity throughout their application review, there are certain ECs that you can’t get away with not having. A few schools have even recently made physician shadowing a requirement for prospective applicants.
How Many Hours Do I Need?
The reality is that you are competing with thousands of other premeds across the country (even overseas) for a very limited number of matriculant seats. Over the years, this level of competition has turned into somewhat of an application arms race. Is this particular process conducive to producing the best doctors? Not necessarily, but it does show admission committees that you are serious about your commitment toward becoming a doctor. An ‘average’ applicant will have somewhere around:
- 100-200 hours of volunteering (both clinical and non-clinical)
- 100-200 hours of undergraduate research
- 30+ hours of physician shadowing
These numbers are very general estimates and should be taken with a grain of salt. Now I know what you’re going to say… ‘I know someone who got in with less hours’, or ‘my uncle Dave got into Hopkins without any shadowing’. My response is twofold. First is that there will always be anomalies. Second, there are many invisible factors that medical schools also take into account when deciding who to admit, not to mention that different schools will value different components. Examples of extraneous factors include being a legacy at a school, belonging to an underrepresented minority group, or even having your parent’s name engraved across the lecture hall. The list goes on. Don’t worry about factors that you cannot control and focus on submitting the best application that you can. Another great resource to use is the school specific matriculation section on MSAR, where it shows the percentages of their admitted students who had paid clinical employment, volunteering, shadowing, etc.
Letters of Recommendations are letters drafted by professors, principal investigators, supervisors, volunteer coordinators or anyone in a position that can speak to your abilities as a student, assistant, or employee. LORs are used to gain an outside perspective into an applicant’s work ethic, professionalism, reliability, and other factors that are not predictable by GPA/MCAT alone. LORs should never come from family or friends. Although every medical school requires the submission of LORs, the specific requirements for who can qualify as a letter writer will differ between schools.
- Most schools will require letters from 2 science professors and 1 non-science professor
- Most schools accept additional letters from PIs, bosses, volunteer coordinators, or managers
- For non-traditional students who are switching careers, LORs from previous employers are almost always required
- Most DO schools require a LOR from a physician that you have shadowed or worked with (DO preferred, sometimes required)
How to ask for a letter?
The first and most important step is to build rapport with your letter writer. Depending on who it is, this could come from attending their office hours or working in their lab. Although this may sometimes seem superficial, remember that you are looking for people who will vouch for you as a medical school candidate. After you have built rapport, the best way is to ask in person, and ask early. If you have already graduated or moved away, then an email also works. The key is making sure that your letter writer knows you well enough as an individual to endorse your strengths with specific details and accomplishments, rather than generic statements such as ‘John is a hard worker’. To avoid generic letters, ask them upfront “do you know me well enough to write a strong letter of recommendation?”
Where to keep your letters?
The most effective way is through Interfolio, a website that allows you to manage a dossier of all your different letters and keeps it for 5 years within their database. The other option is to have your letters requested and uploaded through the designated application portal (AMCAS or AACOMAS); however, this method will not allow you to save your letters if you need to use them again as a reapplicant.
Can you read your letters?
This is up to you. You can either waive your rights to see what the letter write wrote about you or not. Note that by waiving your rights, your letter will hold a lot more credibility and weight than otherwise. It is recommended that you do not read your letters.
How to send letters to schools?
When working on your application, you have the option of either uploading your letters directly to the application portal or through Interfolio. If you’re using interfolio, there will be a code attached to each letter which you copy/paste onto AMCAS/AACOMAS. Once it is uploaded onto the portal, these letters are then sent directly to the schools that you’re applying to.
Difference between AMCAS and AACOMAS LORs
- AMCAS allows you to pick and choose which letters to send out to each MD school that you apply to. AACOMAS doesn’t allow you to pick and choose. The letters that you upload on AACOMAS will be sent out to every DO school that you select.
- AMCAS generally allows more leeway regarding non-academic letters from supervisors or PIs, whereas AACOMAS are more stringent on letters coming directly from academic faculty as well as one from a physician.
- The maximum amount of letters that MD schools accept typically range from 5-7, whereas for DO schools it’s usually between 3-4.
In order to become a licensed physician in the United States, one must first acquire a professional degree in either Doctor of Medicine (MD), or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO). There are a total of 144 accredited allopathic medical schools awarding MD degrees, and a total of 33 osteopathic medical schools awarding DO degrees. Both degrees grant full medical practice rights and responsibilities throughout the country, such as the capacity to offer medical advice to patients or the ability to legally prescribe medications.
- Both MD and DO physicians are licensed to practice medicine in all 50 states.
- Both have identical admissions requirements, including prerequisite courses, MCAT score, clinical exposure experience, letters of recommendations, etc.
- Both require the completion of a residency program before they’re able to practice independently
- Both employ a standard 4 year curriculum that usually entails 2 years of classroom learning and 2 years of clinical rotations
- Both can practice in any medical specialty or sub-specialty with completion of the necessary residency and/or fellowship training
- Both receive equal compensation, as salaries are determined by specialty choice, not the degree title
- Both are licensed by the same state licensing boards once they are in active practice.
- Higher percentage of DO graduates go into primary care specialties (internal medicine, pediatrics, OB/GYN, and family medicine) than MD graduates – 60% for DO compared to 40% of MD
- Application Portal: AMCAS for MD applicants, AACOMAS for DO applicants
- Average GPA and MCAT for MD matriculants are higher than that of DO matriculants
- Board Exams: USMLE for MD students, COMLEX for DO students
- Out of the current 860,917 physicians in active practice in the US, 7.6% are DOs, 67,1% are MDs granted in the US, and 24.3% are international MD graduates
- MD students are thought to have a better chance when applying to highly competitive residency programs (ie. orthopedic surgery, dermatology) compared to DO students
- MDs have higher international recognition and is able to practice in more countries overseas compared to DOs
- DO philosophy centers around “holistic care”, where each patient is seen as an individual as opposed to a collection of symptoms or diseases
- Enrollment of new DO students have been rising at a far higher rate than MD students. Between 1980s and 2005, the number of new DOs have increased by more than 200% (from about 1,150 to about 2,800) while new MD enrollment have remained the same
- DO candidates now make up 25% of all medical students. (21,032 MD matriculants vs 6,592 DO matriculants in 2016)
What is Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment?
Per American Osteopathic Association, DO students “receive extra training in the musculoskeletal system… to perform osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT), a series of hands-on techniques used to help diagnose illness or injury and facilitate the body’s natural tendency toward self-healing.” One misconception about the practice of OMT is that it is a replacement for standard treatments or best-care practices, when in fact it should be considered more so a supplemental tool in a doctor’s toolkit that allows for the treatment of musculoskeletal pain instead of prescribing opiates or other pharmacological interventions.
- Here is the full overview of OMT from the AOA website.
- Additionally, the following are studies done which shows the effectiveness of OMT in treating acute lower back and another one in 2012 demonstrating the effectiveness of OMT in treating pain in active duty military personnel.
In the end, no matter which degree you decide to pursue, you will ultimately be entrusted with the same responsibility to help other human beings who are in need of your services, expertise, and compassion. To that end, I will leave you with a few quotes regarding the differences between MDs and DOs from people far more credible than myself.
“In actual practice, the variations between the two types of physicians are often so slight as to be unnoticeable to patients, and a day in the life of each can appear indistinguishable. But the differences are there, subtle but deep.” – Avery Hurt
“At the end of the day, when you walk into the patient room, and close the door, you are a physician. It does not matter what letters are after your name. All your patient cares about is if you care about them”. – Ryan Gray, MD
- Number of Applicants: 53,042 (2016)
- Total Matriculants: 21,030 (2016)
- Average applications per applicant: 15.6
- Average GPA/MCAT of matriculants: 3.70/31.4 (509-510)
MD Overview 2016
Total MD Applicants 2016
Total MD Matriculants 2016
Average GPA of MD Matriculant: 3.7
Average MCAT of MD Matriculant: 509
- Number of Applicants: 20,720 (2016)
- Total Matriculants: 6,592 (2016)
- Average applications per applicant: 8.96
- Average GPA of matriculants: 3.55
- Average MCAT of matriculants: 27.33 old, 503-504 new