When a current D.O. medical student is approached and blatantly asked the question “Do you think there is a significant difference between M.D.’s and D.O.’?”, the common response of “Are you kidding me?!” is one that can only be described as sarcastically rhetorical . In recent times, the common perception is that D.O. schools are less competitive, and physicians are less qualified to practice. This creates a stigma, a stigma that somehow constructs the idea that D.O.’s did not have to work as hard to get into the school and are somehow less qualified upon completion of schooling. The key to dismembering said stigma is to truly understand the difference between a D.O. and M.D. school. M.D.s practice allopathic medicine, a technique centered around finding the diagnosis, treating the human disease, and ridding the symptoms. D.O.’s, on the other hand, practice osteopathic medicine, the method of treating the patient as a whole being rather than just the symptoms itself.
Since the two institutions of the medical schools differ so greatly in philosophy, what was the deciding factor for aspiring physicians to choose the schools they did? Furthermore, do these aforementioned physicians believe there is discrimination as a result of the said stigma towards physicians from society as a whole and the patients themselves?
After receiving her masters in Biotechnology at Northwestern University McCormick School of Engineering, Leigh Ann Kowalski pursued her degree as a Doctor of Osteopathy at Kansas City University of Medicine and Bioscience. In a recent interview, she stated, “I felt that the D.O. philosophy fit my personality a bit better. It centered upon the physician patient relationship and fostered a more compassionate care model…I felt very at home at my D.O. school interviews”. Interestingly, Dr. Michael B. Noone MD FACOG FACS, a graduate of Georgetown University School of Medicine, a school which falls under the M.D. philosophy, stated that, “I was trying to get to the best medical education I could find and that was the best medical school I got into.” The difference in philosophy was the deciding factor for Mrs. Kowalski and Dr. Noone as they pursued their careers in the medical field.
Society argues that M.D’s have more prestige in terms of their degree and acquired knowledge in the field of medicine. This idea has surely come to pass in today’s day and age, has it not? Do the people of the utmost importance in this situation the patients feel any different? “As far as stigma from patients, in my experience they don’t even know there is a difference. A lot of patients have been seeing D.O. physicians and don’t even realize the difference. A lot of patients have been seeing D.O. physicians and don’t even realize it,” states Kowalski, who believes that the socalled “age of stigma” has long passed our generation and the previous. To his surprise, Dr. Noone claimed that, “there has to be [discrimination] to some degree…but I’m more impressed by the fact that it is so little.” Not only that, he believes the problem to be so rare and the competency level to be so similar that he wonders as to why all physicians are not MD’s.
A [relatively] new method has presented itself to kill the stigma on the residency level of the two institutions. Previously, there were two different residency programs to accommodate the different institutions. This separation further fueled the stigma that the two disciplines were different in competency level. The Association of American Medical Colleges states that, as of February of 2014, residency programs have been moved to a single accreditation system for graduate medical education, ensuring that all physicians are trained under equally rigorous standards. The unification of said systems has eliminated several hardships that D.O.’s and M.D’s faced. For years, D.O.’s were capable of applying to M.D. residency programs, where as M.D.’s could not apply to D.O residency programs. Fellowships were also more difficult to acquire by D.O. physicians who had completed the D.O. residency. Through the unification, these complications have been eliminated. The unification of the two disciplines under the same levels of qualifications should be marked as a sign of progress in eliminating the stigma.
The stigma that the prestige of an MD is more significant, more illustrious than that of a DO is a common storm that a medical student must weather. However, the merger of accreditation systems for graduate medical education will dismember that stigma many times over. “This merger is a huge tipoff that the stigma has long passed” says Kowalski. The stigma will soon cease to exist, as a D.O. and M.D. share the same level of competency due in part to the merger. And to those who refuse to disbelieve the stigma: maybe it is you who are the truly incompetent ones here.