You might be in medical school and wondering what program to apply for. Should you pursue an MD or a DO? For international students looking to practice medicine in the U.S., this decision should not be taken lightly. Medical students should be aware of the main differences between these degrees.

Those holding an MD or DO can be referred to as doctors or physicians. The type of doctor is where the difference lies. Those with an MD degree are considered Doctors of Medicine while DOs are formally referred to as Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine. Both can practice as licensed physicians however, the majority of physicians practicing in the U.S. are MDs. For differences and similarities between these two degrees continue reading below.


  • Medical School Curriculum

While both MD and DO degrees require four years of medical school following an undergraduate education, the information and types of schools attended differ. Those seeking MDs will attend a conventional medical school whereas those seeking DOs must enroll in a college of osteopathic medicine. It is important to note that DOs must enroll in a college of osteopathic medicine recognized by the COCA in order to have a chance at practicing in the U.S. More information on this requirement can be found in the section, ‘Degree Recognition in the U.S..’

Both curriculums cover basic science and require clinical training. Osteopathic schools will focus a large portion of third- and fourth-year studies on osteopathic manipulative medicine. OMT uses a hands-on method of touch to help alleviate pain, illness, and discomfort. More information on this type of medical treatment and training can be found on through the American Osteopathic Society. For more on the differences in the school curriculum, click here.

  • Degree Recognition in the U.S.

Those interested in becoming U.S. osteopathic physicians must attend an institution that is accredited by the Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation (COCA). At this time, all institutions are in the United States, meaning that degrees belonging to osteopathic IMGs are not sufficient to practice in the U.S. Most MD and MBBS degrees obtained international, if accredited by the ECFMG, are recognized in the U.S.

  • Licensing Exams

While both MD and DO students take the same state board exams, the national exams differ. MD students and graduates take the United States Medical Licensing Exam while DO students and graduates take the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Exam


  • Four years of Medical School

Although the medical school curriculum may vary, both MDs and DOs are required to complete four years of medical school to receive their degrees.

  • Clinical Experiences are Needed

    For both DO and MD hopefuls, three Letters of Recommendation from U.S. physicians are required to apply for residency. Clinical experiences provide participants the opportunity to gain these letters while they practice clinical knowledge and skills. This is where a short term clinical experience with AMOpportunities can be of benefit. LoRs must be uploaded to the Electronic Residency Application System. For more information on ERAS and how to upload documents, check out our post, ‘How to Create an ERAS Account‘.

  • Residency is Required

In order to become practicing physicians both, DO and MD graduates must complete a medical residency. DO graduates may elect to participate in an osteopathic or allopathic residency. Osteopathic residency programs, which are approved by the American Osteopathic Association, have fewer options than those in allopathic medicine, which are approved by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. For this reason, some DO graduates will apply for allopathic residency positions. This requires them to take the USMLE in order to apply. No matter which track a graduate decides to follow, residencies can last between three and six years depending on the medical specialty selected.

It should be noted that after June 30, 2020, the AOA and ACGME will merge, allowing students to select residency accredited by either board.

  • Average Income

The salaries of MDs and DOs are comparable. The difference in income is usually based on specialization rather than degree. The average salary for physicians in 2019 ranged from $209,000 to $482k. For more information on which specialties were among the highest paid in 2019, check out Medscape’s Physician Compensation Report.

Are you interested in a four-week clinical experience in the U.S.? AMO offers 200+ options for you to choose from. To get started, create an account today!