How to become a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine

Careers in osteopathic medicine

7 questions—and answers—on how to become a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine

If you’re thinking about how to become a doctor, consider a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine program. D.O.s, short for Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, bring a whole-body approach to health care and medical research. While a D.O. needs to exhibit compassion and patience, they also need extensive education and training.

So, what does it take to become a doctor and how much does it cost to become a doctor? We will answer these questions, along with others you might be thinking about if you’re considering a career as a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine.

  1. Why become a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine?
  2. What is the difference between a D.O. and an M.D.?
  3. What are D.O. school requirements?
  4. How many years does it take to become a doctor?
  5. How hard is it to become a doctor?
  6. Where do doctors work, and what are their career outlooks?
  7. How much does it cost to become a doctor?

Why Become a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine?

When you apply to osteopathic medical programs or medical school, you will likely have to answer this question multiple times. Why become a doctor may elicit many responses. You may want to:

  • Help others in a meaningful way
  • Seek a career where no two days are the same
  • Think critically and problem solve each day to treat patients
  • Build meaningful relationships with patients and medical staff

Before you pursue your own medical career, you will need to answer, “Why become a doctor?”, for yourself.

What is the Difference Between a D.O. and an M.D.?

Two different options offer paths in how to become a doctor: pursuing medical school to earn a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine or a Doctor of Medicine. When you are thinking about the question, “How long does it take to become a doctor?”, know that both options take a similar amount of time.

While an M.D. focuses on symptoms and making a diagnosis based on those symptoms, a D.O. looks at the entire body to help prevent illnesses and injury. D.O.s use osteopathic manual medicine, which involves a more hands-on approach to diagnosing and treating conditions that arise from disease, illness or injury. You may find that D.O.s partner more with their patients to help them get healthy — and stay healthy.

You may also want to consider how much does it cost to become a doctor, which we’ll answer in a bit, when deciding which path to choose.

What are D.O. School Requirements?

Before gaining admission to a D.O. program, you will most likely need:

  • A bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university in the United States
  • Eight semester hours of biology, general chemistry and physics
  • Six semester hours of English, English composition, speech or literature
  • Four semester hours of organic chemistry
  • Three semester hours in biochemistry
  • Other recommended coursework in cell biology, microbiology, immunology, genetics, physiology and anatomy
  • To submit your MCAT exam scores, which generally must be within 3 to 4 years of matriculation
  • To meet grade point average requirements, which vary from program to program
  • Exposure to medicine with a documented letter of recommendation from a health care provider.

How Many Years Does It Take to Become a Doctor?

If you are considering a career in medicine, you may be wondering how long does it take to become a doctor. This can be an important factor in determining how much does it cost to become a doctor. After completing your undergraduate degree program, you can expect to:

  • Pursue four years of osteopathic medical training in classes and research labs
  • Spend three to nine years within internships and residencies, depending on your chosen specialty
  • Take and pass the state licensing exams and national boards

So, how many years does it take to become a doctor? After your bachelor’s degree, you can expect to spend at least seven additional years before graduating with a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine and becoming a fully licensed doctor.

How Hard Is It to Become a Doctor?

As you pursue D.O. school, you may often hear from family and friends, “How hard is it to become a doctor?”.

While you might experience some challenges involving your coursework, family obligations, time management and more, your experience as you learn how to become a doctor has rewarding results. Here is how four years in D.O. school may go.

  • Year One—As you get settled into D.O. school, you can expect to take fundamental scientific classes in anatomy, biochemistry, clinical skills, doctor/patient communication, microbiology and immunology, pathology, radiology and more.
  • Year Two—You will build on what you have learned and take more specialized courses in cardiology, endocrinology, family medicine, reproductive system and more. Becoming a doctor will also involve preparing to take your COMLEX Level 1 Exam, which is a nationally standardized licensure exam required for practicing osteopathic medicine. When you take each part of the exam varies depending on your doctoral degree program.
  • Year Three—Your third year brings clinical rotations in areas such as emergency medicine, family medicine, general surgery, obstetrics and gynecology, psychiatry or rural hospital practice. You can also perform elective rotations in a specialty or care setting. At the end of your third or fourth year, you will take the COMLEX Level 2 Exam.
  • Year Four—Your final year will begin with completing your care and elective rotations. Next will be taking part in the American Osteopathic Medicine Match or National Residency Matching Program. Both place students in residency training programs around the United States. Wherever you complete your residency, you will need to become licensed to practice in that state.

Where Do Doctors Work, and What Are Their Career Outlooks?

Now that you know how to become a doctor, it’s time to think about career options. Nearly 80,000 licensed osteopathic physicians work around the United States, according to the American Association of Osteopathic Medicine. That number is expected to grow by 13% over the next decade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

D.O.s work in a variety of health care settings, including:

  • Physician offices — whether it’s in family practice, pediatrics, sports medicine and more — or as leaders of clinics, departments or hospitals
  • Clinical and scientific research centers
  • Colleges and universities as professors

As you think about how much does it cost to become a doctor in the next section, keep in mind this strong job outlook and the overall return on investment in your career and future.

How Much Does It Cost to Become a Doctor?

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the average cost of four years of medical school is $250,222 for public colleges and universities and $330,180 for private institutions.

However, at Des Moines University’s Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine program, our tuition is below the national average for both public and private colleges and universities. There are also no graduate student fees for our D.O. program, which means you can become a doctor with a potentially lower financial investment. So, the answer to the question “How much does it cost to become a doctor?” will depend on the doctoral degree program you choose.

One other piece of good news: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, doctors make, on average, $208,000 a year.

How to Become a Physician Assistant Begins at DMU

Des Moines University’s Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies will help you become a compassionate, knowledgeable expert and leader in medicine as a physician assistant. DMU’s physician assistant master’s program will allow you to:

  • Learn in cutting-edge facilities, including our Iowa Simulation Center for Patient Safety and Clinical Skills, Surgery Skills Lab, anatomy lab and much more
  • Master your skills alongside exceptional teachers and leaders who have decades of experience as clinicians and educators
  • Prepare for another medical specialty with core coursework and electives in our PA master’s degree program
  • Explore how to become a physician assistant at DMU and get ready to pursue a career that is improving medicine and patients’ lives.
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