Allopathic and Osteopathic Medicine

Allopathic Medicine - Overview of the Profession

Allopathic medicine refers to a system in which medical doctors and other healthcare professionals (such as nurses, pharmacists, and therapists) treat symptoms and diseases using drugs, radiation, or surgery. Also called biomedicine, conventional medicine, mainstream medicine, orthodox medicine, and Western medicine. Allopathic physicians receive an MD. Their responsibilities are various and relate to the maintenance of health, including both acute care and prevention. Allopathic physicians can choose to practice in a number of different specialty areas, as well as build a career in teaching or research.

Specialty Areas

After medical school, all physicians are required to complete further training. It is at this time that they will choose the clinical area which they hope to pursue in more depth. A physician may choose from a number of different specialties that will vary in terms of the number of years of post-graduate training required.

Practice Areas

Physicians practice in a number of different settings including private practice, group practice, academic medical centers, research labs, hospitals, HMOs, clinics, industry, military, or government.


Medical school is four years in length. Typically, the first year and a half to two years concentrate on didactic learning of the basic sciences and the second two years focus on clinical training in the hospital. However there are many variations to this model and most medical schools integrate clinical training across the four years. After completion of medical school physicians will generally enter residency training programs that range from 3 – 8 years.


Please see section on Premedical Curriculum. Many medical schools have unique requirements. The Preprofessional Advising Office compiled a list of the required and recommended courses for different medical schools across the Unites States which is updated every year or so. That list is available here.


Admission to medical school is extremely competitive. Please see section About Applying or more detailed information.

Osteopathic Medicine -Overview of the Profession

According to the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM), “Osteopathic medicine is a distinctive form of medical practice in the United States. Osteopathic physicians use all of the tools and technology available to modern medicine with the added benefits of a holistic philosophy and a system of hands-on diagnosis and treatment known as osteopathic manipulative medicine. Doctors of osteopathic medicine emphasize helping each person achieve a high level of wellness by focusing on health education, injury prevention and disease prevention.” Osteopathic physicians receive a DO degree, but they are fully physicians with all the same rights and responsibilities as MDs.

Practice Areas

Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.s) are licensed to practice the full scope of medicine in all 50 states. In practical terms, the D.O. and the M.D. receive the same license and share the same medical rights and privileges. Osteopathic medical education emphasizes primary care, however, students may seek training in any specialty, from Psychiatry to Neurosurgery, and many D.O.s do pursue specialization.


According to AACOM, "there are currently 41 accredited colleges of osteopathic medicine in the United States. These colleges are accredited to deliver instruction at 66 teaching locations in 35 states." Osteopathic medical students study all of the basic and clinical sciences expected for mastery of medicine plus additional training in the art of osteopathic manipulative medicine. Osteopathic schools emphasize the idea that structure influences function and therefore if a problem exists in one part of the body’s structure the function in that area and in other closely aligned areas may be affected. There is also a focus on prevention and holistic care.


See Premedical Curriculum


Osteopathic Medical School is quite competitive, but typically these schools receive fewer applications than allopathic schools. Therefore, as a result students with slightly lower grades and MCAT scores may find that their prospects at Osteopathic schools may be greater. Premedical students should not, however, regard colleges of osteopathic medicine as “safety” schools.

Colleges of Osteopathic medicine look for a combination of experience and motivation typically characteristic of a good doctor. Beyond that, admissions committees want to know why applicants are specifically interested in osteopathic medicine. Many osteopathic schools require a letter of recommendation from an osteopathic physician as part of the application; many practicing D.O.s are willing to write such a letter, provided that applicants observe their practice and discuss the profession.

It is acceptable for aspiring doctors to apply to both allopathic and osteopathic schools; many applicants do. Please refer to About Applying for more information on the specific processes and procedures.

In addition to comparing locations and costs of schools, students who are accepted to both M.D. and D.O. programs should carefully consider which training best suits their medical career plans.


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