For years, there was an unfounded stereotype surrounding Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine (DOs). It was wrongly assumed that because DOs emphasize a whole-person approach to treatment and care, receive musculoskeletal training known as osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT), and often practice hands-on healing, that they were closer to chiropractors than Medical Doctors (MDs). Perhaps the biggest perpetrator of the stereotype? The fact that DOs and MDs were accredited by two different governing bodies.
However, it has always been the case that DOs, just like MDs, fulfill internships and residency training in all the standard medical specialties. Just like MDs, DOs can prescribe medication and perform surgeries in all 50 states.
In a move toward equality, by 2020 the American Osteopathic Association (AOA), American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM), and the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) will transition to a single accreditation system for graduate medical education in the U.S. When fully implemented in July 2020, the new system will allow DOs to complete their residency and/or fellowship education in ACGME-accredited programs and demonstrate achievement of common competencies.
What does this mean?
DOs and MDs will now apply for residencies through a single match process beginning in 2020. This will eradicate the two separate systems with two separate deadlines. In addition, both of the licensing exams (United States Medical Licensing Exam—USMLE Step 1—taken by MDs and Comprehensive Medical Licensing Examination—COMLEX Level 1—taken by DOs) will be accepted for MDs and DOs (at most schools).
Why is this happening?
We need qualified physicians to meet increasing demand; we no longer have the “luxury” to discriminate based on stereotypes or preconceived notions. In 2017, the number of U.S. medical school senior registrants was 19,030; of those, 17,480 (94.3 %) matched to first-year positions. That same year, the number of U.S. osteopathic medical school applicants reached a record high of 5,000; of those, 2,933 (81.7%) matched to PGY-1 positions. The 2018 match also saw a significant increase in students and graduates of osteopathic medical schools. The numbers of DO medical school students and graduate students who applied were 4617 and 3771 respectively (out of 37,103 US and international applicants). 81.7% of DO applicants matched to a first-year position. Since 2014, the number of osteopathic medical school students applying in the match has increased by almost 70%.
As match numbers from the last two years indicate, DOs are increasingly competing, and then training, alongside MDs. The accreditation merger is the next logical step, a formality designed to improve the quality and requirements of medical education, and to ensure a consistent method of evaluating residencies for both DOs and MDs.
What does this mean for recruiting?
While there may have been a point in time where healthcare organizations would specify the need for an MD versus a DO, that time has passed. In fact, DO applicants often land positions over MD competitors in today’s aggressive marketplace simply because of the healthcare paradigm shift. In the era of population health and value-based healthcare, preventative healthcare strategies are paramount; DOs have been trained in holistic medicine and a disease prevention mindset. This often makes them great collaborators, team members, and patient advocates—all characteristics necessary to excel in today’s healthcare organizations. Especially with the accreditation merger, today’s healthcare organizations care less about the specific letters after your name and more about your ability to listen to, and partner with, colleagues and patients.