The Many Paths to Becoming a Doctor

The Many Paths to Becoming a Doctor

Not everyone goes into medicine right after college. There are people who have found a passion for medicine years after completing multiple degrees in other fields. Some students don’t do well in undergrad, but find a passion to pursue medicine and want to become doctors. There are multiple routes students can take to become a doctor – but some are not as efficient as others.

In the United States, there are two types of degrees to become a physician.  

You have probably heard of an MD – a Medical Doctor or Doctor of Medicine. An MD practices allopathic medicine, which is the “classic” form of medicine, and focuses mainly on the diagnosis and treatment of human diseases and ailments. Another type of doctor is a DO – an Osteopathic Doctor – who practices osteopathic medicine, or a very holistic form of medicine that treats the individual as a whole, rather than a walking set of isolated symptoms.  DO’s essentially practice medicine with the overarching dogma that all parts of the body work together and are constantly influencing each other. Don’t be mistaken, though – both DO and MD physicians utilize scientifically accepted and proven methods of diagnosis and treatment, including drugs and surgery. DO and MD physicians are found in every medical specialty.

The pre-med path is identical for both MD and DO schools, which requires the generic coursework (of course, varying slightly across schools), the MCAT, and a certified bachelor’s degree. The greatest difference between allopathic and osteopathic physicians is their overarching philosophical backbone. Osteopaths recognize that the body is one interconnected system, and they observe the effects these sub-systems have on each other.  The musculoskeletal system is important in altering the condition of the other sub-systems of the body. Because of this, osteopathic schools require up to 200 hours of musculoskeletal manipulation training, in addition to medical coursework, thereby training students in manual therapy and physiological manipulation techniques.

Why is it likely that you have not heard of a DO? Currently, they make up less than 10% of practicing physicians in the US. More medical school applicants apply to MD schools than DO schools, resulting in a higher, and more competitive admissions criteria for allopathic schools. However, in recent years, as the number of overall medical school applicants has increased, and the admission standards for both MD and DO schools have shot up. 

MD and DO students and medical residents take different licensing exams. MD students take the USMLE (United States Medical Licensing Exam), while DO students take the COMLEX (Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination). DO students are not restricted from applying to MD residency programs; however, it may prove more difficult to get into these more competitive programs as a DO. Some MD residencies will accept COMLEX scores, but many do require DO students to take the USMLE.

Why should you care about these tests and residencies far into the future? It is important to begin planning for what’s to come.  The type of medical school you get into will play a huge part in shaping your future; the location and residencies you will be able to feasibly apply to will be a result of your past performance.  Your undergraduate career is where you have the greatest ability to control where your future takes you.

Your undergraduate career is where you have the greatest ability to control where your future takes you.

If you’re interested in learning more about the DO programs, Shannon Rodriguez from the career center has kindly forwarded me some information:

There is a new national awareness campaign, Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine, which  has been launched. You can learn about future opportunities as a D. O here:

http://doctorsthatdo.org/

There is a newsletter located at http://thedo.osteopathic.org/, and notably:

http://thedo.osteopathic.org/2015/10/people-want-doctors-who-listen-creating-a-national-awareness-campaign/

PRE-SOMA, the undergraduate division of the Student Osteopathic Medical Association, is a national organization of students pursuing a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degree.  They have a great deal of information available, and you can join them and help out with spreading awareness about osteopathic medicine:

http://studentdo.org/presoma

So I’ve heard about medical schools in the Caribbean - are those good alternatives for a US based program? I don’t have the best grades but still want to become a doctor.

From the research I’ve done, I can say that going to medical schools in the Caribbean is a bad idea. Only do so if you have absolutely no options, and even then, I would be hesitant. Don’t believe the “wonder stories” that come out of these medical schools: an undergrad who got a GPA <3.0 in undergrad, going to a Caribbean school, and getting into their dream specialty. These are the outliers, far and above reality, and shouldn’t give you false expectations for the Caribbean schools. Many of these schools have high attrition rates, require up-front tuition payment, and more importantly, force you to apply to residency programs as a foreign applicant. This has a huge impact on your application – foreign medical graduates have a much harder time getting into competitive residencies. Specialties such as surgery, radiology, and dermatology are very selective against any kind of foreign medical graduates. The Caribbean will give you more hurdles to jump over, rather than fewer.

So you want to be a doctor, but you think your GPA doesn’t cut it? You aren’t out of luck. For GPA reparation, re-take all sub-par science coursework (F/D/C). You don’t need to retake courses at Skidmore. After you graduate, you can take the classes at a local state school. I would recommend that the retaken coursework should have an equivalent amount off credits, or even more. Course titles don’t have to be identical, but the course content must be very similar (course catalogs are your friend).

Let’s say that you’re currently in the void where your GPA is lower than the competitive grades, but you can’t retake the classes (for example, you got all B’s throughout undergrad). You might consider a post-bac, which may be a program to prepare students for graduate or professional schools. You will definitely want to succeed and prove to medical schools that you can become a competent doctor.

The National Association of Advisors for the Health Professions, has a great source of resources regarding the post-bac. You can find it here:

http://www.naahp.org/PublicResources/PostBaccalaureateOptions/PostBacArticle1.aspx

All I can say is walk away from foreign medical schools. Don’t believe that you are the one who can beat the odds. People often hear about the success stories; everyone else loses and no one hears about it. You are statistically more likely to be one of those less fortunate people. Don’t take the chance.

Thanks for reading, everyone. As always, don’t hesitate to send me questions at kyerneni@skidmore.edu. Once again, if you want a Health Professions Advisor, please contact Tracy Broderson at tbroders@skidmore.edu. An HPAC advisor will be able to work with you on a one-on-one basis to schedule out what you have to accomplish each year at Skidmore in order to reach your goal.

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