How to Become an Osteopathic Physician (D.O.)

 How to Become an Osteopathic Physician

1. Earn a Bachelor's Degree (4 Years)

To become an Osteopathic Physician, you must first earn a Bachelor's Degree. It would be a good idea to take a pre-med program course in college as you need courses heavy in math and science.

The courses differ depending on which path you choose, but some of the courses are the same, mainly the math, sciences, and some psychology courses.You need to make sure you get the proper pre-requisites for medical school.

A course load for pre-med might look like the following:

Grade Level Example Courses
Freshman
  • General Chemistry I & Lab
  • General Chemistry II & Lab
  • Biology & Lab
  • Calculus I
  • Humanities Requirement
  • Physics I & Lab
  • Physics II & Lab
  • Humanities Requirements
  • Electives
Sophomore
  • Organic Chemistry I & Lab
  • Organic Chemistry II & Lab
  • Fundamentals of Microbiology & Lab
  • Genetics
  • Physiology
  • Humanities Requirements
  • Electives
Junior
  • Cell Structure & Function
  • General Virology & Lab
  • Microbial Genetics & Lab
  • Biochemistry I
  • Biochemistry II
  • PhysicsHumanities
  • Requirements
  • Electives
Senior
  • Upper Level Biology
  • Upper Level Chemistry
  • Upper Level Physics
  • Upper Level Psychology
  • Upper Level Kinesiology
  • Remaining Requirements & Electives

Be sure to keep your grads high, as medical school admissions are very competitive. You need to start prepping for the MCAT as well, because you need to take it to advance.

2. Take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT)

To be admitted into medical school, candidates must first take the MCAT, or Medical College Admission Test, a 7.5 hour, standardized, multiple choice exam used to assess the applicant's knowledge of science, reasoning, communication, and writing skills.

The MCAT is divided into four sections:

Section Section Breakdown
Biological & Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
  • 59 multiple-choice questions
  • 95 minutes
  • Tests biology, organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, and biochemistry
Chemical & Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
  • 59 multiple-choice questions
  • 95 minutes
  • Tests biochemistry, biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics
Psychological, Social, & Biological Foundations of Behavior
  • 59 multiple-choice questions
  • 95 minutes
  • Tests introductory psychology, sociology, and biology
Critical Analysis & Reasoning Skills
  • 52 multiple-choice questions
  • 90 minutes
  • Tess reading comprehension, humanities, and social sciences

You can find study materials, MCAT registration, and your test scores on the MCAT website. If you are unsatisfied with your score on any of the aforementioned exams, you are free to retake them. Depending on the school, some will average your scores and others will simply take your most recent.

3. Earn a Medical Degree (4 Years)

When you go to medical school, you want to choose the Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) program. The DO degree focuses on many of the same things a MD program focuses on, but it also teaches you osteopathic manipulative medicine.

You should know you are facing 4-5 years in medical school. Your first couple of years will focus on the following:

  • Basic pathology
  • Anatomy
  • Biology
  • Other life sciences

In the second half of the program, you will work with doctors and other healthcare professionals to advance your skills and focus in on osteopathic medicine.

You will learn alternative procedures and how to manipulate the musculoskeletal system. You will work in clinical settings to learn about specialties and gain needed experience in your field.

4. Earn the Required License & Certification

After you complete medical school you have to apply for your medical license and after all your training, you can apply to take an exam (depending on your specialty) and get your board certification.

Since you will graduate from a DO program, you can take the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX-USA).

There are three different levels to the exam. Level one comes in your second year of medical school COMLEX-USA Level 1 is a problem-based and symptom-based test that gauges your foundational and basic knowledge of the following:

  • Biomedical Sciences of Anatomy
  • Behavioral Science
  • Biochemistry
  • Microbiology
  • Osteopathic Principles
  • Pathology
  • Pharmacology
  • Physiology

The exam consists of two, four-hour computer-based test sessions during one day, containing a total of 400 test questions which are either best answer, multiple choice, or matching.

Passing of COMLEX-USA Level 1 indicates you know the foundations of biomedical sciences and osteopathic principles required to solve clinical problems.

Level two at the end of your third year

The second level integrates the clinical disciplines of the following:

  • Emergency Medicine
  • Family Medicine
  • Internal Medicine
  • Obstetrics/Gynecology 
  • Osteopathic Principles
  • Neuromusculoskeletal Medicine
  • Pediatrics
  • Psychiatry
  • Surgery

This exam consists of another 400 questions that are the same format as level one. It will show you have the skills to go into graduate medical education.

Level three during postgrad training Level 3 tests all the things level 2 does, but it shows you're competent to manage patients in unsupervised clinical settings.

Once you get your medical license you will move on to complete your residency and hone in on your skills.

5. Complete a Residency Program (4 Years)

After medical school, you have to complete your residency. During this time, you will be supervised by other healthcare professionals and get hands on training to build upon your skills and confidence, to allow you independent practice.

During your residency, you can expect to work from anywhere to three to eight years in a clinical or hospital setting. It's here you can really hone in on your skills and build upon your knowledge.

6. Maintain Certification Through Continuing Education

Continuing education is required so you can renew your license. The minimum continuing education hours and time restrictions vary by state. AOA members are required to obtain 120 credit hours in a three-year cycle.