Do No Harm: Your Guide to Being a Premed, Pt. I


This week we’ll be starting a new multi-part series that explores what exactly you need to do to become a physician. Today we’ll begin by talking about what a pre-med actually is and what the difference between an MD and

What is a Pre-Med?
The road to becoming a physician is long, but hopefully this series will help illuminate how exactly one does become a doctor.

Pre-med is short for pre-medical student, and in general, pre-med refers to students who are interested in pursuing a medical doctor degree, MD or DO. The other allied health professions have their own “pre” terminology, such as pre-dent for those hoping to become dentists or pre-pharm for those hoping to become pharmacists.

Luckily, “pre-med” only designates what you’re hoping to do in the future—it does not necessarily limit what you are doing in the present. A common misconception is that in order to become a medical doctor, you must “major in pre-med.” This is completely false, and in fact, most schools don’t even offer a pre-med or pre-health degree. Medical schools accept a wide range of majors, and STEM fields only compose approximately 60% of all admitted medical students. So go out there and major in what you love!

MD vs. DO

The two types of medical degrees are allopathic (MD) and osteopathic (DO). Both are recognized as doctors, and both are able to fully practice medicine without any oversight or supervision. What differs between the two is the availability of residencies between the two and, unfortunately, the cultural stigma against DO’s.

Both MD and DO schools take place over four years, 1.5-2 years of which is learning basic science and clinical knowledge,  and 2-2.5 years of which is learning clinical skills by observing and assisting licensed medical doctors. After these four years, you are officially a doctor, but you are unable to practice medicine. In order to be legally allowed to practice, you must complete a residency program, which is essentially more training within hospitals, again under the supervision of fully licensed doctors. Many consider residency to be the most important part of a medical education, as this material is what you’ll be practicing in your own specialty or field. In 2015, there were 30,000 residency spots filled by allopathic seniors, as compared to the 3,000 residency spots filled by osteopathic seniors. This disparity in the number of residency programs can be attributed to the relatively low number of osteopathic schools(30) compared to allopathic schools (144). This dearth of DO residencies could potentially mean it would be more difficult to find a residency in the specialty of your choice as a DO student as compared to an MD student.

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OMM is the primary and most controversial difference between allopathic (MD) and osteopathic (DO) schools.
OMM is the primary and most controversial difference between allopathic (MD) and osteopathic (DO) schools.

Next, as alluded to earlier, is the cultural stigma against DO. Though both MD and DO doctors are fully capable of treating you, there seems to be a stigma against DO license holders. Though much of the initial curriculum between allopathic and osteopathic schools is the same, what distinguishes DO curricula is the addition of osteopathic manipulative medicine (OMM). OMM teaches  the holistic treatment of patients and operates under the belief that improper function stems from improper structure. In particular, OMM focuses on the positioning of muscle, bone, and deep tissue, operating under the belief that by stretching and re-positioning these varies body structures, one can alleviate pain and cure illness. Research studies have not shown OMM to be particularly effective at managing ailments, and in fact, many MD and DO physicians have called OMM pseudoscience. However, it’s important to keep in mind that OMM is but a small section of a DO student’s curriculum. The other 90% of material taught is science and evidence-based, the quality of which should not be tarnished by the continued instruction of dubious historical methods.

This post is part of a series. Part II of this series can be found here:

Do No Harm: Your Guide to Being a Pre-med, Pt. II

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