How to Become an Osteopathic Doctor: Where Should I Start?

Female medicine doctor filling patient medical form or prescription

Osteopathic doctors take a holistic approach to medicine. Instead of just treating symptoms and diseases, they try to unearth lifestyle, nutrition, and environmental factors that might affect your wellbeing. They believe all the body systems are interconnected, especially the system of muscles, nerves, and bones: the musculoskeletal system. Even if you’re familiar with osteopathic medicine, you may not have realized that the training to become one is just as difficult and rewarding as many other fields of medicine. You’ll still need to get an undergraduate degree, attend medical school, and do a residency. 

Get Your BS Degree to Become an Osteopathic Doctor

To become a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO), you will need to start with an undergraduate degree. While there is no hard and fast rule, most up-and-coming doctors major in some form of biological science. When you choose a science major, you’ll learn about human anatomy and physiology, as well as general and organic chemistry. Those kinds of courses lay a good foundation to learn about the human body and how medications might affect it. A program that offers hands-on research opportunities will also teach you critical thinking and allow you to put your knowledge into practice. 

Take the Medical College Admission Test 

Getting into medical school is your next step. During your senior year, you’ll need to take the Medical College Admission Test, or the MCAT. The test is designed to test your knowledge of biology, chemistry, human behavior, and reading comprehension, and is a requirement for medical school applications. Before you sit for the exam, you’ll want to complete courses in biology, chemistry, and physics. To properly prepare for the exam, give yourself four to five months to study. The test fee is $320 and the exam lasts for seven-and-a-half hours. You can register and prepare for the exam through the Association of American Medical Colleges.   

Apply to and Graduate from an Osteopathic Medical Program 

Once you pass the MCAT, apply to a medical school that offers osteopathic medical training. In addition to typical medical training, you will take 200 hours of training in osteopathic manipulative medicine. This is the hands-on medicine that is at the heart of the specialty. It involves the doctor manipulating the patient musculoskeletal system to help restore the body’s natural functions and abilities to self-heal. Medical school takes four years, but once you graduate, you’re not done.

Apply to a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine Residency Program 

In 2020, the rules on accreditation changed to a single system so your options about where to apply are broader now. Now most residency program will accept either the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination that DO graduates typically take or the United States Medical Licensure Exam which was usually taken by MD grads. According to the American Osteopathic Association, it can take three to eight years of internship, residency, or fellowship experience before you can become licensed.

Earn Your DO License 

The final step in the process is to earn your license. The exact requirements depend on which state you plan to practice in. For example, in South Carolina, you’ll need to complete at least three years of residency and you’ll need to pass one of the following exams:

  • The National Board of Medical Examiners Examination
  • The National Board of Osteopathic Medical Examiners Examination
  • The Federation Licensing Exam
  • The U.S. Medical Licensing Exam
  • The Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Exam

Once you earn your license, you’ll be able to practice medicine as an osteopathic doctor. 

What Is Osteopathic Medicine?

Osteopathic medicine has been around since the 1800s, and according to the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine, it’s one of the fastest growing health professions in the country. It’s more than just a treatment to alleviate symptoms—it’s the practice of treating the body as a whole. As a DO, you’ll see a person and their body as an interconnected set of systems that work together in unity. You’ll work to treat all of these systems, rather than just an isolated part of the body. For example, if a patient is suffering from neck or back pain, you’ll use stretching or muscle energy techniques over the whole body to alleviate the pain. Your overall goal is to help patients live their healthiest lives. You’ll provide holistic treatments and educate patients to live a healthy lifestyle so they can prevent illnesses before they arise. And you’ll view your patients as partners, working with them to achieve a high level of wellness so they can prevent the onset of disease. You’ll educate them on what it takes to live a healthy lifestyle from nutrition to exercise, and what steps they can take to prevent illness and injury from the start. 

If you’re interested in osteopathic medicine, you aren’t alone. According to the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine, more than a quarter of medical students in the U.S. are training to become osteopathic doctors. You can begin your career path in a pre-medical undergraduate program. Limestone University offers a Bachelor of Science in Biology – Pre-Professional that can prepare you for osteopathic medical school. And through our unique partnership with the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine, your path to medical school may be easier. Once you successfully complete your undergraduate program, you’re guaranteed to receive an admissions interview and you can take part in an Early Admission Program.