Before applying to medical school, pre-med’s should ask themselves what kind of doctor they want to be–not in terms of practice, but in terms of philosophy. Students applying to medical schools today are faced with the decision of whether or not to apply to an MD (“Medical Doctor”) or a DO (“Doctor of Osteopathy”) program. These two degrees are indistinguishable in terms of merit; they both require the same amount of school (4 years for medical school and 2-6 years for residency) with identical emphasis on academic vigor. The two programs diverge, however, in terms of philosophy.

Most students are familiar with MD programs.

This philosophy focuses more on treating the symptom. For example, if a patient comes in with high blood pressure, an MD would assess the patient’s vital signs and prescribe a blood pressure medication. Some patients may not prefer this detached style of care.

For a more holistic and personal approach to medicine, pre-medical students may want to explore the DO path. DOs treat the person in addition to symptoms. With the same example of a patient with high blood pressure, a DO may look at the patient’s lifestyle first. By assessing the patient’s nutrition, exercise, and family history, the DO may prescribe a healthier diet and more exercise before prescribing medication. It should be noted, however, that DO’s do have the ability to prescribe medication just as an MD does. While some patients may not appreciate this personal care, others may be medication-phobic and would rather change their lifestyle over taking a pill. While both paths require vigorous schooling, applicants to either program should assess their values in medicine and how they approach patient care in deciding whether or not to apply to an MD or DO program.