Osteopathic Physician

What does an osteopathic physician do?

The philosophy of an osteopathic physician is that the body has intrinsic healing mechanisms and that the promotion of health can be obtained by treating the whole person - health is an expression of spiritual, psychological, physical, and environmental factors. Osteopathic physicians may use manipulation of bone or soft tissues to promote health because they believe that structure and function are interrelated. An osteopathic physician can take patient histories, order laboratory tests, read x-rays, diagnose illness or the extent of an injury, and prescribe medications. They have also completed hands-on training in an area of specialty that gives them license to perform a variety of tasks specific to their residency or fellowship training (i.e., surgery). Osteopathic physicians can do a residency in any medical specialty that they choose (and get accepted into) such as family practice, cardiothoracic surgery, orthopedics, pediatrics, etc. In a clinical setting, it would be difficult to discern the M.D. from the D.O. without seeing the letters behind the physician's name.

How are the osteopathic physician (D.O.) and allopathic physician (M.D.) different? Are there any limitations placed on the osteopathic physician that are not pertinent for the allopathic physician?

In the United States, there is no functional difference between the osteopathic and allopathic degree. The opportunities for osteopathic and allopathic physicians to specialize are identical, i.e. interventional radiology, cardiothoracic surgery, and neurosurgery. The difference between an M.D. and D.O. lies mainly in their basic philosophy and the osteopathic physician's training in soft tissue and bone manipulation. However, most osteopathic physicians do not regularly practice manipulation. The osteopathic physician also has the ability to move into management positions within the hospital, if desired.

There are some limits to the practice of osteopathic medicine outside of the United States, however. Some countries do not recognize the osteopathic degree and therefore will not allow them to practice. This distinction is particularly important for you to consider if you are interested in practicing abroad on mission trips, Doctors without Borders, or in a full time capacity.

How long will it take to obtain a degree in osteopathic medicine, and what is the curriculum like?

It takes four years to obtain a degree in osteopathic medicine. In a typical osteopathic medical curriculum, the first two years are spent on basic science - gross anatomy, neuroscience, histology, biochemistry, etc. In the third and fourth years, students complete clinical rotations in a hospital or family practice setting to get supervised hands on work with patients. After graduation from medical school, residency begins and varies from 3-7 years depending on the specialty field chosen.

Pre-Health Advisor

Matthew Collier, Ph.D.
Professor of Biology
BDK Science Center 207
(937) 327-6395

What tests will I need to take to become a licensed osteopathic physician?

The Comprehensive Osteopathic Licensure Examination (COMPLEX) is a three level test that osteopathic medical students are required to pass throughout their medical education. Part 1 assesses the basic scientific concepts that are related to health, disease, and modes of therapy commonly used by a practicing physician. It is taken during the second year of medical school. Part 2 is typically taken in the fourth year and is used to assure that the medical student is competent to practice medicine while under supervision (internship) and concentrates both on health promotion and disease prevention. Part 3 is the final assessment of a physician's ability to care for patients independently and is taken at the end of the year of internship prior to starting the residency. Osteopathic medical students also have the option to take the United States Medical Licensure Examination (USMLE), which is typically taken by students in allopathic medical programs. This allows the student in an osteopathic medical school to be board certified M.D. Following residency, osteopathic physicians take licensure examinations from the board that oversees their particular specialty.

What courses should I take at Wittenberg to prepare for osteopathic medical school?

Osteopathic schools generally require:

  • 1 year of General Biology (170 and 180)
  • 1 year of General Chemistry (121 and 162)
  • 1 year of Organic Chemistry (201 and 302)
  • 1 semester of Biochemistry (271)
  • 1 year of Physics (201 and 202 or 280)
  • 1 year of Mathematics (one semester of Calculus, Math 201 or Math 131; and one semester of statistics, DATA 227)
  • 1 year English (101 and another English A course)
  • 1 semester of Psychology (PSYC 101)
  • 1 semester of Sociology (101)

While the above prerequisites apply to most medical schools, some schools add their own requirements. Be sure to check the schools that you are interested in applying to for other required coursework, such as:

  • 1 semester of Biochemistry II with laboratory (372)
  • 1 additional semester of Behavioral and/or Social Science (Wittenberg's S courses; Psychology and Sociology in particular)
  • 1-2 semesters of Humanities ( Wittenberg's A or R courses)

What major should I pursue at Wittenberg if I am interested in osteopathic medicine?

You can choose any of Wittenberg's 20+ majors as long as you take the prerequisite courses required by the schools to which you apply. Up to 40% of all students matriculating to medical schools are non-science majors, so it is certainly possible to major in something outside of Biology, Biochemistry/Molecular Biology, or Chemistry. As far as the osteopathic schools are concerned, they do not put much emphasis on whether you graduate with a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science degree - that choice is yours. Look at the prerequisite requirements for the schools that you are interested in and the degree requirements for your major to determine which degree is the best match for you.

Do I need to have medically related hours when applying to osteopathic medical schools?

Yes. While most medical programs do not have specific minimum requirements for number of paid or volunteer hours spent with a physician or members of a medical team, they do appreciate your consistent efforts to gain a more hands-on experience with the medical field. Volunteering for 2-3 hours each week during the semester demonstrates to the schools your loyalty and commitment to the profession at a time when they know you are already busy. In addition, students interested in medical school may choose to interview with the Pre-Health Professions Committee. This process requires you to have 100 medically related hours at the time of the interview in the spring of your junior or senior year. Stories that you can relate from these experiences can vastly improve your interview performance.

Is it important that I participate in extracurricular activities while at Wittenberg?

Yes. While the schools do not require a specific number of extracurricular activities or leadership positions, they look for both in your application materials. They consider how many years you spent with each organization and how involved you appear to be with each one (e.g., leadership roles). The schools use your experiences in this area to better understand your ability to socially interact with others, your leadership potential, and your time management skills. They seek to recruit well-rounded individuals who can successfully balance a heavy academic load with medically related experience and extracurricular activities. If successful, they infer that you will rise to the challenge of their academic program when you have fewer non-academic commitments.

How can I locate the osteopathic program that is best for me?

Start early. Identify 5-8 schools of potential interest before registering for classes in the spring of your SOPHOMORE YEAR. The courses listed above are common to many osteopathic schools, but there may be additional requirements for the schools you are interested in. It is best to know about those requirements while you still have room in your schedule to fulfill them.

Do research. Go to the schools' websites and make a table of courses required, average GPA of their incoming class, and number of hours in a medical setting (if any). These will give you some idea of where you need to be academically when you graduate from Wittenberg, and the courses you need to take inside your major and in the general education program to make you a good candidate for that particular set of schools. Schools consider both your science GPA and your cumulative GPA, so it is not wise to prioritize your grades in science courses over those taken for your general education requirements.

Summarize your findings. Create a sample table of school information assuming all require general biology and general chemistry. Add a column for each different course as you encounter them as prerequisites at your schools of interest.

 Human A&PBiochemNutritionPsychSociO Chem IAverage GPAMedical hours
School 1XX X X  
School 2XXX XX  
School 3X  X X  

Evaluate your findings. Match your cumulative GPA with the averages for the last incoming class at each school. Read all web pages for hospitals/medical centers that have a specialty that interests you. Look for data that report on the percentage of students that have passed the board exams.

Always apply to the schools in the state where your parents are living and paying taxes. You have the best chance to get into the public schools in that state, and the tuition at your in-state school is much less than at a private or out-of-state public school. Apply to the osteopathic school in your home state if there is one. If your parents live in Michigan, you should definitely apply to the Michigan osteopathic school. Michigan residents who lived in Ohio for 4 years while attending Wittenberg get no preference from Ohio University (Ohio's only osteopathic medical school). When choosing to apply to schools outside of your home state, choose schools that accept at least 30% out-of-state students, which are usually private schools. This ensures that you at least have a chance to be interviewed. Apply mainly to private osteopathic schools outside of your home state. Consider applying to between 5 and 7 osteopathic medical schools.

Which schoo ls are best for me to apply to outside of my home state?

Your best chance of getting into osteopathic medical schools outside your state of residence is to apply to schools with relatively high out-of-state acceptance rates (>30%). These include:

  • Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Midwestern University
  • Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Midwestern University
  • Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine
  • Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine
  • Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine
  • Touro University College of Osteopathic Medicine
  • University of Health Sciences College of Osteopathic Medicine
  • University of Osteopathic Medicine and Health Sciences
  • Western University of Health Sciences College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific

How and when should I apply to osteopathic schools?

  • Consider going through the Pre-Health Professions Committee in your junior year (if you want to go directly to medical school after graduation) or senior year (if you want to take a year off after graduation before matriculating to a medical school) to get a thorough evaluation of your potential for medical school and a committee letter of evaluation written to be sent on your behalf to the medical schools. Medical schools typically expect these committee letters from their applicants, especially if you are a current college student or recent graduate, but students with strong credentials can get accepted without participating in this interview process.
  • Take the MCAT in the spring or summer of that same year. The strong preference would be to take the MCAT in late spring or early summer so that you know your scores before you choose the schools to which you should apply, and it gives you the opportunity to retake the MCAT during the application cycle should that be necessary.
  • Apply to the osteopathic medical schools of your choice using AACOMAS during July of that summer, even if you plan to re-take the MCAT in August or take it for the first time in August.
  • Wait to receive secondary applications from your target osteopathic schools, and return the completed forms to the schools as quickly as possible. If you chose to use the committee interview process, contact the pre-health advisor and give her an envelope addressed to the medical school (neatly) with two stamps affixed to it and your name written on the inside flap. The return address should be Dr. Pederson's business address. This envelope will be used to mail your committee letter of evaluation to the medical school.
  • Wait to receive interview invitations from your target osteopathic schools.
  • Wait for the results of your application after the interview to find out if you have been accepted, wait listed, or rejected by that particular school.
  • You are at a disadvantage if you opt to take the MCAT late or submit your materials late in the cycle - applications are often considered as they arrive, not after the deadline. Complete and send your materials in a timely manner.

What is the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)?

The MCAT is a standardized, multiple-choice examination designed to help admission committees predict which of their applicants will perform adequately in the medical school curriculum. The MCAT is now available more than 20 times per year, but should be taken in the spring or summer of your junior year if you plan to go directly to medical school after graduating from Wittenberg, or spring or summer of your senior year if you plan to take a year off between graduation and matriculation into medical school. The MCAT assesses scientific problem solving, critical thinking, and writing skills. In addition, it explores the student's understanding of scientific concepts and principles that are necessary to the study of medicine. Because this is a content based test, you should have taken General Biology, General Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Math, and Physics prior to taking this examination.

The four parts of the MCAT are:

  • Verbal Reasoning: You will be given a series of passages that test your ability to comprehend, reason, and think critically. The passages vary widely in their content, but are usually esoteric.
  • Physical Sciences: You will be given a series of passages related to Physics and General Chemistry which will require you to problem solve and apply your basic knowledge of these areas.
  • Writing Sample: You will be given two prompts (subject matter varies widely), each of which has a topic statement and directions for three writing tasks. You must explain or interpret the topic statement and then follow the directions provided for the second and third tasks according to prompt you received.
  • Biological Sciences: You will be given a series of passages related to General Biology and Organic Chemistry which require you to apply your general knowledge in these areas to the text.

Sample questions for the multiple choice sections and prompts for the writing sample are available on the MCAT website (www.aamc.org/students/mcat/).

Do I need to go through the Pre-Health Professions Committee interview when applying?

While not required, students are encouraged to go through this interview process. Most dental schools prefer its applicants to have a composite letter of evaluation like the one generated by the Pre-Health Professions Committee, although some students with strong credentials have been accepted to dental school without participating in this process. The general prerequisites for going through the committee process are:

  1. 100 hours of health related experience
  2. Cumulative grade point average > 2.80
  3. Junior, senior, or alumni status

More information about the committee process can be found on the pre-health committee webpage.

Do I need to coordinate my applications through a service?

Yes. The American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service (AACOMAS, www.aacomas.aacom.org/) is a nonprofit, centralized service to facilitate the process of applying to participating osteopathic medical schools. AACOMAS benefits the applicant by collecting, coordinating, and processing all transcripts and other application materials for the medical schools. Most of these schools will not allow direct applications - you must use AACOMAS (Texas medical schools use their own service. Go to www.utsystem.edu/tmdsas/ for details). The applicant completes the AACOMAS application, and AACOMAS will send copies of your application to each osteopathic medical school you specified on the application.

Do you have any tips for preparing an attractive application?

Filling out applications for these professional schools can be difficult and tedious, but require your best effort. Applications must be filled out completely and correctly or they will be returned to you. Having your application returned for further information delays contact with the admissions offices of your target schools. Pay particular attention to the required one page personal statement. If you chose to participate in the committee interview process, you have already received formal feedback - be sure to revise your personal statement essay! Have someone else assess your essay (i.e. Career Center staff, Writing Center, etc.) after your revision. Remember that you are trying to sell yourself to an admissions committee. Irrelevant details, poor sentence and paragraph structure, incorrect grammar, misspelling, typographical errors, etc. detract from the image you wish to create as their ideal candidate.

Which osteopathic medical schools have Wittenberg students been accepted to in the last 10 years?

  • Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine
  • Lake Erie University
  • Michigan State University
  • Midwestern University
  • Ohio University
  • Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine
  • St. Louis University
  • University of Health Sciences
  • University of New England
  • West Virginia University

List of schools on the web available at:

What are some of the osteopathic programs in the country?

Osteopathic SchoolsAverage GPATotal MCAT
Des Moines University3.5524
Kirksville College of Osteopathy3.5028
Lake Erie College of Osteopathy>2.7021
Michigan State University3.4624
Midwestern University (IL)3.4727
Midwestern University (AZ)3.4026
New York Institute of Technology>2.75>24
Nova Southeastern University3.30>24
Ohio University3.6124
Oklahoma State University3.4626
Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine3.0021
Pikeville College of Osteopathic Medicine3.3024
Touro University College of Osteopathic Medicine3.5027
University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey3.50>24
University of New England3.3025
University of North Texas Health Science Center3.6027
West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine3.4122
Western University of Health Sciences3.3326
Back to top