Gaining acceptance to medical school can be a Herculean task. Between meeting pre-med requirements with stellar grades, studying for and taking the MCAT, and navigating the medical school admissions maze, it can be quite the effort.
Differentiating between the different medical school paths you can take adds an extra level of complexity. There’s the traditional MD route, the increasingly popular DO route, and then international routes. Here, we’ll break down some of the strengths and weaknesses of each.
The MD is the most common and most well known medical degree.
Literally standing for “Medical Doctor”, these two letters have become synonymous with the profession. MD training is also known as “allopathic,” a term coined by homeopaths in the early 1800’s to refer to traditional Western biomedicine.
The upside is that the MD degree is the most well recognized medical degree, and can be converted to practice medicine nearly anywhere in the world (with the appropriate post-graduate training). MD students also generally have higher board scores and match rates than their counterparts in other programs. Traditionally, the MD is also more common among students interested in surgical specialties.
The downside is that MD schools are generally more difficult to gain acceptance into. Less attention may also be paid to holistic or complementary approaches to clinical care, if that is something in which you’re interested.
The DO, or Doctorate of Osteopathic Medicine degree, signifies training as an osteopathic physician.
Founded in the late 1800s, osteopathic medicine was intended to refocus clinical care toward a more holistic, patient-centered approach. Nearly 20% of American medical students are pursuing DO training.
While DOs have all of the same rights and responsibilities as MDs, their education, expectedly, features additional training in complementary techniques. Osteopathic training is therefore particularly well suited for students interested in primary care, although an increasing number of DOs match into surgical and specialist residencies. DO programs also have their own boards and match process, although students can also choose to pursue the MD licensure and match process, as well. One downfall is that DO training is not recognized in some countries, despite being fully recognized in the US. However, as DO schools are slightly less competitive for applicants, the DO is certainly an excellent option for many students.
Lastly, many students consider pursuing training internationally—in a growing number of Caribbean medical schools or elsewhere. Many students find the Caribbean a strong option because most schools do not require an MCAT score and are generally much less competitive than American schools.
But the competition heats up considerably upon acceptance. Although every school is different, these programs generally accept far more students than they graduate, using the first several years of didactic training to “weed” students out of the program. This is unlike MD and DO programs in the US, where dropouts are much less common.
Training in the Caribbean is arduous, and this option, by definition, requires that students spend several years far away from home. However, many Caribbean schools partner with smaller community hospitals in the US to allow their students to do their clinical rotations at these sites—decreasing the amount of time required abroad.
Matching into competitive specialties from the Caribbean can also be difficult, as graduates of Caribbean schools are considered “International Medical Graduates” with most spots reserved for US medical graduates. However, as most students at Caribbean programs are US citizens and have strong English skills, Caribbean graduates generally match better than international graduates who are not American nationals.
In the end, there is not one best option—each has its positives and negatives. It’s about finding the option that is best for you. Good luck!