Pros and Cons of a DO vs MD

Should you pursue a degree as a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (OD), or should you become a Medical Doctor (MD)? Consider the pros and cons of DO vs MD. For those who are considering which educational path to pursue or which type of licensing to obtain, it is critical to understand the differences between these two areas.

The biggest difference between a MD vs DO has to do with their medical philosophy and their approach to healthcare. MD programs typically are focused on medical education and evidence-based evaluation of patients to determine treatment options. This is the most common form of medical care in the U.S. and is often referred to as Western Medicine.

By comparison, osteopathic medicine is more focused on science-based disciplines which revolve around the goal of treating the whole person rather than just the symptoms occurring in one area or the areas of the body impacted by disease or injury. In a DO program, you can expect high quality medical training, but the focus is on treating the whole person rather than just one area. What does this mean for your future? Here’s a closer look at what to consider. Before we get into the pros and cons of an MD vs DO, lets 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 level of care. DOs have extensive training in listening to patients and then partnering with the patient to find a way to help the individual to get healthy and remain healthy rather than providing symptom based help.

There are DOs that practice all types of medicine, including care for children, psychiatry, surgery, primary care, and OBGYNs. They also hold some of the most prestigious positions in medicine today, including care for not just everyday citizens but even 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?

Comparing MD vs DO, a DO will have 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

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What Is an MD?

An MD is a professional that you know as an allopathic doctor. That means they are a doctor that can 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 will 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 that 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.

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What Are the Key Differences Between the Two Degrees?

There are several main differences between MD vs DO and each will have their own pros and cons. There are both competitive educational programs to get into, with more competition common in the MD path. Both programs require exceptional students. Here is a look at some of the most important.

  • Focus of care: A DO focuses on the body as a whole unit – a person is a whole body that includes their body, mind, and spirit. The focus of care is often on encouraging self-healing of the body as well as health maintenance and self-regulation. By comparison, an MD treats areas of the body impacted by injury and disease primarily with more of a “part-focused” approach, often specializing in one area.
  • Prerequisites: Both programs typically have numerous prerequisites for students to obtain before enrollment. However, these will differ based on the path selected, with DOs focusing on more of a whole body approach to their education. All will require biology, organic chemistry, and physics education as a baseline.
  • Clinical experience: Both degree programs will require hands-on clinical experiences, often as an initial component to obtaining a license. Clinical experience will be beneficial when it is in the same type of field the student plans to work in – DO or as an MD.
  • Licensing: Both require formal licensing, which is completed only after the necessary completion of medical school. DOs tend to spend at least four years in osteopathic medical school, while MDs may spend six or more years in this area. DOs focus heavily on preventative medicine and patient care that’s more comprehensive, whereas MDs will be required to have a specific focus for their medication education.

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.

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Are Certain Specialties Only Available to DOs or MDs?

No, in fact, there is no specialty that is off the table for a DO that is available to an MD. Both MDs and DOs can see patience, 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.

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.

Is Salary of a Specialty a Pro or Con for an DO vs MD?

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 that 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?

Pros and Cons of a DO

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.

Pros of becoming a DO

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.

Cons of becoming a DO

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.

Pros and Cons of an MD

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.

Pros of becoming an MD

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.

Cons of becoming an MD

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. That is often because there is a lot more competition for those positions, which 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, but 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 that are in medical schools now are enrolled as DOs, which is far more than just a few decades ago.

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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.


Notwithstanding the pros and cons of an MD vs DO, both degrees indicate that a physician is licensed to practice medicine. While both 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.


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