INTERVIEW | The Difference Between an MD and an DO Degree with Dr. Sam Jones

INTERVIEW | The Difference Between an MD and an DO Degree with Dr. Sam Jones

This week we’re talking to Dr. Sam Jones, DO, a family physician with decades of experience in private practice. Dr. Jones is passionate about holistic medicine and preventive care, which contributed to his decision to pursue a DO degree.

He initially considered an MD degree but decided that a DO suited his interest in primary care and forging deep relationships with patients.

When he is not in his office, he can often be found volunteering, as it allows him to connect with people. He also enjoys talking to medical students and residents about their career paths. Here is his advice for future doctors who are getting ready for medical school.

What is the difference between a DO and an MD?

A Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, or DO, focuses on treating a patient holistically. Holistic medicine is a traditional approach that tries to emphasize prevention and treating the whole body when possible. Of course, doctors with DOs still use the latest research and scientific methods to treat. But with a little more emphasis on healthy living.

A doctor with an MD degree uses an allopathic approach, which is more concerned with treating a specific symptom or condition. While both MDs and DOs can work in primary care, it’s much more common for DOs to do so.

MDs tend to pursue other specialties after medical school. Currently, there are more MDs than DOs in America, but that may change as more students understand the differences between the two.

MDs and DOs can prescribe medication and do all the things a doctor usually does. Both types are trained in preventive medicine, and both can work in hospitals and clinics around the country. The major difference is in their philosophy. DO training prepares us to see the whole patient, rather than just the part of the body that needs treatment.

How are the training and education different for DOs?

DOs medical degrees are typically offered at separate specialized medical schools. Osteopathic medical schools are a four-year program with residency required afterward. The GPA and MCAT scores necessary to get in vary from school to school but are typically around the same as for MD programs.

DO degrees include a large amount of training in osteopathic manipulative treatment, which moves the muscles and bones to help the body heal. Doctors with DO degrees may also feel a patient’s joints, muscles or organs through their skin to help with a diagnosis. This training usually adds an additional 200 hours of class for DO degrees.

Finally, the exams for DO and MD degrees are different. DO students are required to take the COMLEX exam sequence during medical school and residency, while MD students are required to take the USMLE during the same period. Certain residency programs require the USMLE instead of the COMLEX, so some DO students end up taking both sets of exams.

What are the important skills for becoming a DO?

Listening and teaching are critical. Patients know their bodies best, and it’s essential to try to get the bottom of any ailments they have. Sometimes patients overreact to their symptoms, but that doesn’t mean those symptoms aren’t worth treating. Sometimes patients may struggle to describe their symptoms, so we must ask clarifying questions instead of making assumptions.

As a family physician, I’ve seen plenty of patients who worry too much. Instead of dismissing these patients, we need to teach them to trust their bodies while maintaining healthy habits. By educating patients about other possible causes for their symptoms and best practices for preventive care, we can build trusting relationships with them.

Of course, technical knowledge is just as important. Our patients’ lives depend on the accuracy and speed of our diagnoses. However, soft skills are often overlooked in the medical world. When it comes to practice as a DO, it’s challenging to implement a holistic philosophy without these skills.

What advice do you have for future doctors who are interested in pursuing a DO?

Being a doctor isn’t easy, and you have to love the work you do to succeed. The underlying philosophy behind your medical degree shapes how you interact with your patients. So the difference between a DO and an MD is critical.

DO degrees almost always lead to a career in primary care or general surgery. Virtually every medical specialty accepts either a DO or an MD degree. If you’re interested in becoming a DO, investigate osteopathic medical schools. Getting into a DO program requires the same general prerequisites as an MD program, so there’s no reason not to pursue it if the philosophy resonates with you.

This post is part of our interview series, which brings together useful insights from healthcare professionals around the country. Stay tuned for the next entry in our series. We’ll be talking to a range of people from different specialties, all of whom can help you plan your next career move.

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About the author

Sam Attal

Sam has been working in the healthcare industry for 5 years, she lives in Georgia with her husband and 2 dogs. She freelances as a content writer and loves to read about medical trends and share the knowledge around.

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