DO vs. MD: Similarites, Differences & How They Compare

Should you pursue a degree as a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (OD), or should you become a Medical Doctor (MD)?

There are pros and cons to each, and they take different approaches to healthcare. We’ll explain those differences in detail below.

DO vs. MD: A Quick Summary

This article will elaborate on the biggest differences between these two degrees, but here’s the most important takeaway:

Medical Doctors (MDs) are certified to use evidence-based patient evaluation of patients to determine treatment options for specific symptoms.

This is the most common form of medical care in the U.S. and is often referred to as “Western medicine.”

By comparison, Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine (DOs) are trained to treat patients holistically (i.e., the “whole” person rather than specific areas of the body).

You can expect high-quality medical training in both types of programs.

  • MDs and DOs offer distinct approaches to healthcare, focusing on different patient care philosophies.
  • DOs treat patients holistically, emphasizing overall health, while MDs use evidence-based methods.
  • Both MDs and DOs undergo rigorous training, with some differences in specialties and treatment focus.
  • Career opportunities and earnings are similar for both MDs and DOs, depending on specialization and experience.

However, there are some factors to consider before you choose one or the other.

Before we get into the pros and cons of an MD vs DO, let’s fully examine each path.

What Is a DO?

A Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, or DO, is a fully licensed medical provider in the U.S.

According to the American Osteopathic Association, about 11 percent of all doctors in the U.S. fall under this category.

They provide a patient-centered approach to health care and can provide a full spectrum of levels of care.

DOs undergo extensive training in listening to patients and partnering with them to find ways to promote and maintain overall health rather than just addressing symptoms.

DOs practice various medical specialties, such as pediatrics, psychiatry, surgery, primary care, and obstetrics/gynecology.

They hold prestigious positions in medicine, providing care not only for everyday citizens but also for individuals like the President of the United States and Olympic athletes.

What Does a DO Learn?

There are a few key differences in DOs in terms of what they learn. Most often, they are focused on the treatment of the patient, not the disease, which means a whole-body focus on healing and health.

To do this, most will receive training in osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT). This type of training enables a provider to assess the neuromusculoskeletal system.

Using this method, the DO is then able to determine if osteopathic manipulative treatment is necessary.

As such, these providers typically have training in each of these areas.

What Are the Responsibilities of a DO?

A DO has many of the same responsibilities as an MD. This may include:

  • Examining patients
  • Taking the medical history of a patient
  • Ordering diagnostic tests, interpreting their outcomes
  • Diagnosing health conditions and injuries
  • Prescribing treatment for conditions
  • Providing treatment for conditions
  • Working to improve a person’s overall health often through improved exercise, eating habits, pain relief, and improving chronic conditions

Read now: What It Takes to be a Traveling Physician

What Is an MD?

An MD is a professional that you know as an allopathic doctor.

That means they are a doctor who diagnose and treat a variety of medical conditions using conventional, evidence-based methods, including prescription medications, surgical procedures, x-rays, and blood work.

Allopathic medicine is considered more mainstream traditional medicine.

Though DOs can specialize, MDs often do.

That means they tend to focus their practice on a specific area of care, such as on being a primary care doctor or a doctor that focuses on one area of the body, one type of disease treatment, or perhaps one group of people, such as geriatrics or pediatrics.

What Do MDs Learn?

MDs have a full medical education path that often focuses on a specific area of education.

MDs learn science-based approaches for the treatment of illness and injury.

In most situations, this involved a focus on treating medical care in a specific area, but the focus is typically on more traditional or conventional methods of education.

What Are the Responsibilities of an MD?

MDs have many of the same responsibilities as a DO, including:

  • Meeting with and examining patients
  • Diagnosing conditions
  • Gathering medical histories
  • Prescribing and interpreting medical diagnostic reports
  • Creating treatment plans for a variety of health conditions
  • Providing very focused care on symptom relief or disease/injury treatment

MDs can provide overall recommendations for care as well. For example, an MD may provide dietary and exercise guidelines for a patient who has a medical condition that’s unrelated.

Yet, they tend to focus on a specific goal of care rather than an overall whole-body view.

What Are the Key Differences Between an MD and a DO?

While these are both competitive educational programs, MD and DO degrees have some key differences:

  • Focus of Care: A DO prioritizes holistic health, treating a person as a whole entity and emphasizing self-healing and health maintenance, while an MD adopts a more specialized, “part-focused” approach.
  • Prerequisites: Both programs have prerequisites; DOs may emphasize different courses with a whole-body approach, but biology, organic chemistry, and physics are baseline requirements.
  • Clinical Experience: Both degree programs require relevant hands-on clinical experience for licensing.
  • Licensing: Formal licensing is essential for both DOs and MDs after completing medical school. DOs spend a minimum of four years focusing on preventative medicine, while MDs may invest six or more years in specialized medication education.
  • Educational Paths: Both paths demand intense commitment from highly qualified students with a bachelor’s degree in a related field, featuring courses tailored to the specific work the student intends to pursue.

Both educational paths are intense and require highly qualified students who have earned a bachelor’s degree in a related field.

Without a doubt, courses are specific to the type of work that the student plans to do.

Read this: Experts Weigh in on the Future of Healthcare in the Next 30 Years

Do DOs and MDs Have the Same Career Options?

Yes. Both MDs and DOs can see patients, provide treatment options, prescribe medicine to them, and perform medical procedures.

They can focus on a variety of specialties, including pediatrics, emergency medicine, OBGYN, and other areas.

There is no specialty available to one that is not available to the other.

In many cases, a DO has the ability to offer their services to a large group of people and can specialize their education in any given field.

The key difference here is that while they may be treating women’s health issues, for example, they are taking a full body approach to do so, while an MD may only focus on women’s reproductive health.

The same applies to many other areas of DO practice.

Who Earns More: DOs or MDs?

The specialty of any medical provider is a big factor in what they will earn for the work they do.

Therefore, the specialty of an MD or an OD will determine their earnings based on the industry.

By the same process, DOs and MDs will earn at a comparable rate when all factors are the same.

For example, if a DO and an MD have the same level of experience and are practicing in the same area in the same specialty, they are likely to earn close to the same.

The more specialized a DO or an MD is, the more their income earning power increases.

By comparison, a DO or an MD who is more of a generalist will likely earn less overall.

Regardless of whether you are a DO or MD, we can help you secure the best compensation package possible when you use our Contract Review Service.

Our team has extensive knowledge of industry standards and salary ranges, and we use this information to negotiate on your behalf (if you so desire) and help you get the best deal.

Related: What Should an Employment Agreement for Physicians Include?

Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO): Pros and Cons

Following your passion may be the ideal step to take for most people, but it helps to have a good idea of what the pros and cons are of a DO vs MD.


Working as a Do can offer a number of potential benefits, including:

  • More musculoskeletal system training and understanding within educational programs is likely. This provides more of a hands-on approach to the treatment of various conditions. For those who wish to receive this training, such as osteopathic manipulative medicine and osteopathic manipulative treatment, this route may be best.
  • Ideal for those who want to pursue primary care. While a DO can specialize in any area, they are often primary care providers. For those who want to be more specialized, the field is more readily open to MDs.


There are some drawbacks to working as a DO that you must consider as well:

  • Though DOs and MDs now have equal footing when it comes to getting a residency program, it tends to be harder for a DO to find a Match. That’s simply because of more availability for MD residency programs. This is improving, though.
  • The cost of education may be high, sometimes higher than the cost of MD training. That depends on the school of choice, but there could be a higher cost factor to consider.
  • Working in some of the older and traditional academic research facilities is more difficult as a DO as they tend to maintain their traditional school of thought rather than a more modern outlook of holistic medicine.

Medical Doctors (MD): Pros and Cons

When weighing the pros and cons of an MD vs DO, there are both good and bad aspects of becoming an MD as well.

Individuals must take into consideration what works for their individual needs. Here are some things to think about before making that decision.


Some of the best reasons to go the MD route include the following:

  • There are ample research opportunities available to MD students. This is due to MDs typically holding these positions in the past. Many programs heavily prefer MDs because of their more traditional focus on medicine.
  • MD programs require more academic training. For those who enjoy academic medicine and want to focus on a specialized area of medicine, a fellowship is likely easier to obtain than it is for a DO. That may mean that for those who wish to work in a large academic institution, an MD is the right path for them.


There are a few drawbacks to consider when it comes to being an MD as well, including:

  • There’s a significant difference in the work you do, and for some people, that lack of hands-on training and medical service is a concern. MDs are not likely to receive the same whole-body training and treatment education which means more of a specific focus on their education rather than an overall focus.
  • Medical school is often more challenging to get into than it is for DOs because there is a lot more competition for those positions. This means less overall access for those who may not have the best grades or test scores.

Changes in DOs and MDs Over Time

If you hope to become a doctor, it is critical to choose a path that’s important to you and that is something you’re truly interested in.

At the same time, you need to consider the demand for your services.

There is a growing number of people seeking out DOs, mainly because of the better understanding of holistic health and its importance in improving lifespans and increasing the overall quality of life.

According to some reports, about 25% of students who are in medical schools now are enrolled as DOs, which is far more than just a few decades ago.

Read this: The Physicians Guide to Malpractice Insurance.

Is Being an MD or a DO More Prestigious?

Many times, a medical student is worried about the prestigiousness of the career they have. It is hard to say that one is more prestigious than another.

A person working as a DO can hold leadership positions, provide care to some of the most elite athletes in the world, and manage whole healthcare systems.

That is the same as an MD can do.

While it may be something that is talked about in the academic world, prestigiousness is not something that is often considered when you are working in the field.

What’s most important here is doing work that is fulfilling to you.

Final Thoughts

While MD and DO degrees have similar educational requirements and clinical training, the key difference lies in their philosophical approach to patient care.

MDs follow a traditional allopathic approach, while DOs follow an osteopathic approach that emphasizes the interconnectedness of the body’s musculoskeletal system.

Ultimately, the choice between an MD or DO depends on an individual’s personal beliefs and values about healthcare, as well as the specific career path they hope to pursue.

Patients should feel confident seeking care from either an MD or DO, as both are fully qualified to diagnose and treat medical conditions.


Need help with something else?

Work with advisors that know physicians:

Get Free Disability Insurance Quotes

Get Your Contract Reviewed

Beginners Guide to Tax Planning


Subscribe to our email newsletter for expert tips about finances, insurance, employment contracts, and more!

About the Author