Additional Resources

Two kinds of physicians: Allopathic and Osteopathic #

There are two kinds of practicing physicians in the United States: allopathic physicians (MD's) and osteopathic physicians (DO's). Both are fully licensed physicians, trained in diagnosing and treating illnesses and disorders, and in providing preventive care.

Osteopathic medicine began as a nineteenth century health reform movement that emphasized preventive care.  In the post-Civil War period in the United States many popular medicines were being used that were toxic. An MD named A.T. Still was concerned about overuse of these medications, and founded a new school of medicine that emphasized preventive care and allowing the body to heal without overuse of medications.

While many of the osteopathic schools still emphasize these principles in their training, in many respects M.D.’s and D.O.’s practice medicine in identical ways today. Like allopathic physicians, osteopathic physicians prescribe medication, perform surgery, and practice in specialty areas. However, osteopathic physicians are trained in some special areas in which allopathic physicians do not receive training. Students at osteopathic medical colleges receive training in Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment (OMT) that MD's do not receive. OMT involves using the hands to diagnose and treat illness or injury. Osteopathic medicine also emphasizes the integration of the entire body's systems, and many of the osteopathic schools place special emphasis on preventive medicine. DO's fill critical needs in our healthcare system, particularly as primary care providers in rural and underserved areas.

All premed students should educate themselves about both allopathic and osteopathic medicine. If you become an MD one day you will work alongside DO's in many clinical settings, so you should become informed about their training and practice. We recommend that all premed students arrange opportunities to shadow both allopathic and osteopathic physicians, and decide for themselves about which path towards becoming a licensed physician interests them the most. In fact, many students explore both options by applying to both allopathic and osteopathic medical schools.

For more information on osteopathic medicine please consult resources of the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine.

Medical specialties #

Want to know what you have to do to become a dermatologist? Wondering how long it would take you to become a thoracic surgeon?

After completing four-years of medical school, residency programs provide training in specialty areas. The length of residency training ranges from three years for Family Medicine to seven or eight years for some types of surgery.

The American Association of Medical Colleges site for medical specialties provides a great deal of useful information about specialty areas within medicine and the length of training needed to practice in them.

Md/PhD programs #

If you would like a career that combines research and medicine, you may wish to consider a combined MD and PhD program. Completing a combined MD/PhD program can be a desirable path for students who would like a career in medical research or academic medicine. It is also quite possible to have a career that involves medical research by completing an MD alone, without a PhD.

The Association of American Medical Colleges provides a helpful overview of pursuing a career in medical research.
Successful MD/PhD applicants need to have substantial experience that demonstrates their potential for a research career. Many programs look for a specific commitment to translational research, the process of converting knowledge learned at the laboratory bench all the way through to practical applications at the patient's bedside.  
Applicants apply to MD/PhD programs through the AMCAS primary application. In addition to the personal statement required for all applicants, those applying for MD/PhD admission must submit additional essays addressing their reasons for wanting to pursue the MD/PhD and about their research experience. Many MD/PhD programs look for an understanding of the process of translational research in the applicant's essays. It is also important for applicants to MD/PhD programs to obtain strong letters of recommendation from professors familiar with their potential for research. 
The Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP), sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, provides funding to students completing combined MD/PhD programs. Information on the MSTP program and a list of sites may be found at the NIH website for the program.
The AAMC also provides a listing of MD/PhD programs.