Life as a D.O. Student

“Desires dictate our priorities, priorities shape our choices, and choices determine our actions.” 
― Dallin H. Oaks

I can recall a quote I've seen a number of times as I studied for my clinical laboratory science degree which said "you don't have to be a doctor to work in a hospital". True indeed. Even more true is that you don't have to  attend a traditional  medical school to be a very good or great doctor either. Depending on where you live in the world you apply, enter and graduate from medical school and attain an M.B.B.S, or you can attend a naturopathic school and attain an N.D. or attend an Osteopathic Medical School and attain a D.O. I hope you enjoy this post as  Morgan a current D.O. student and blogger at Heart Work sheds some light on the similarities and differences between a D.O and an M.D. as well as sharing with us some of her most memorable moments in her journey thus far in a Q & A styled interview. 

TNO Chronicles: Why did you choose a DO school over an MD one?
Heart workFor a couple of reasons….

I was first exposed to “DOs” when my cousins started DO school while I was still in high school. So, I knew quite a bit about DO school from them before I applied, just watching them go through the process and talking with them about their experiences. I liked the holistic approach to medicine that’s at the core of the osteopathic philosophy. We’re taught that “the body is a unit” and therefore everything is interrelated. That mindset, in addition to the manipulative treatments that we learn, just made sense to me. Ultimately, as I researched the profession more, and shadowed physicians, I knew that training as a DO would turn me into the kind of physician I hoped to become.

I was also a “non-traditional” medical school applicant. I majored in English literature and minored in biology as an undergraduate. Generally, Osteopathic schools are more accepting of those types of applicants, and I felt I was more competitive for the osteopathic application process. 

TNO Chronicles: What was the application process like for a DO school compared to that of an MD one?
Heart work: This was a while ago so some of the specifics I am a little vague on, but the processes are very similar. Both use application services; for MD schools its AMCAS and for DO schools its AACOMAS. Some schools may require you to send in additional letters or fill out an additional application form, but that varies. I sent in my primary application with AACOMAS, had my letters of recommendation submitted, and then waited to fill out secondary applications for individual schools and get invited to interview.

Regarding the undergraduate course prerequisites, the requirements are the same for DO and MD schools. The MCAT is also required. 

TNO Chronicles: How does DO schools differ from medical schools, or are they the same?
Heart work: DO schools follow the same syllabus and curriculum as MD schools. The difference lies in our osteopathic manipulative medicine training, or OMM. DOs, or osteopaths, spend additional time studying how to manipulate and treat the body with noninvasive techniques that range from simple soft tissue to adjusting bones! There really isn’t an area of the body we don’t know how to diagnose and treat.

TNO Chronicles: If you could go back to the application process for DO schools, what would you change, keep the same or modify and why? 
Heart work: I followed my pre-med advisor’s advice and cast a very wide net by applying to a lot of schools. Most successful applicants, from what I was told, apply to about 10-15 programs. I think I applied initially to around 17 – probably a little too many! However, I did not fill out all of those secondary applications. I submitted secondary applications to eight and interviewed at 4 schools. I don’t know if there is anything I would change, per se, but I could have been a little more selective at applying to schools.

TNO Chronicles: What advice would you give to someone wanting to apply or attend a DO school?
Heart work: Shadow a DO! And especially shadow a DO in the field(s) that you find interesting. The DOs I shadowed practiced family medicine, internal medicine, and emergency medicine. Different specialties lend themselves to osteopathic medicine differently. So it was nice to see how each physician tailored their osteopathic training to their practice.

I’d also recommend reaching out to current DO students, especially if you are about to apply and have questions about the application process, or questions about life as a medical student in general.

TNO Chronicles: To date, what is your most memorable medical school experience? How has it impacted your life?
Heart work: My most memorable experience this far was my first “real patient” encounter. Before that we just practiced on standardized patients (actors). The real thing was very different. (I am proud to say the first thing I ever did for a patient while wearing my white coat was catch vomit in a bed pan!) But it reminded me why I’m working so hard right now, and what all of this studying is for – which can be a difficult thing to remember when its 3am and you’re trying to make sense of glycolysis for the seventh time. ;)

TNO Chronicles: What is the COMLEX and how does it differ from the USMLE?
Heart work: The COMLEX is the DO board exam, the DO equivalent of the MD USMLE. Both exams test the same material – the curriculum covered during the first 2 years of medical school. Additionally, the COMLEX tests the OMM techniques and principles that we study as DO students.

However, as a DO student, we are still allowed to take the USMLE if we want to. For example, if I wanted to pursue a residency program that only accepted the USMLE, as some of them do, I would be allowed to take the USMLE in addition to the COMLEX.

TNO Chronicles: How are you planning on studying for the COMLEX and what advice would you give to others preparing to study for the USMLE?
Heart work: Since the step one (USMLE) and level one (COMLEX) both test the curriculum that we study during the first two years of medical school, doing well in school and trying your best to really understand and make sense of the material is the best preparation. With that being said, like anything, if you don’t use it, you lose it. There are topics I covered my first semester as a first year that I don’t really remember (anatomy of the human foot, for example). That’s where board prep programs come in – and there are a lot of them!

I chose DIT (Doctors in Training). My friends ahead of me in school used it and were happy with their results. I sat through the DIT spiel when they came to my school’s campus and their program seemed like a good fit for me. I’m using it right now to study for my board exam in June and so far I’m very pleased with my choice.

Kaplan also has a good prep program and I know a lot of other people use Boards Boot Camp.

Some of my classmates got hung up on choosing the “wrong” program, but I don’t think there really is a “bad” board prep program – if it didn’t produce results it wouldn’t last! I think that you’ll get out of it what you put into it. If you apply yourself and study hard, boards are conquerable. (Or so I’m told!)

What is absolutely essential is to use a Q bank (question bank). This really is imperative and statistically the more questions you do the higher your score is. I’m using the COMLEX Q bank (COMBANK) and the USMLE Q bank (U World). My goal is to get through the COMBANK at least twice (there are 2,000 questions total, just to give you an idea), and the U World Q bank once (also 2,000 questions). 

TNO Chronicles: What apps or websites do you find most helpful as a student?
Heart work: Every med student has their particular study tools they swear by, so this will vary from person to person. My favorites are:

Firecracker – an online question bank that lets you flag topics you’re currently studying. It’s a little pricey, but they usually have discounts at the beginning of the semester and it really is worth it if doing questions and seeing things repeatedly is how you learn. They have a website and an app, bonus. They have a free trial month that I’d recommend looking into.

Pathoma – this really is awesome. Seriously, almost everyone in my class uses it and loves it. Dr. Sattar, a pathologist from University of Chicago has put together videos on the highest yield path topics. If you’re having a hard time making concepts stick, this really is a valuable tool. It is also one of the ways I’m reviewing for boards. Also a little pricey, but the subscription lasts for a while, plus it comes with a book of notes.

I also use the Lange pharm flash cards and a set of medical microbiology flash cards by Rosenthal, which I find very helpful. The “Made Ridiculously Simple” series is also pretty good depending on the topic. I have the clinical neuroanatomy and clinical microbiology text that are solid resources in addition to my textbooks.

YouTube – this sounds dumb, but its absurd how many helpful videos that are out there! For example, today I watched a quick video on liver blood supply while I was studying liver path. I’m such a visual learner that being able to see things is extremely helpful! There is one video about drawing the brachial plexus in 10 seconds or less that I have probably watched about 20 times. There are also some really great anatomy review videos by Dr. Preddy from Touro University.

Those are the ones that I’ve found helpful! I also know a few people from my class who use Picmonic, which is a visual aid study tool that uses different pictures to help you remember facts about various topics. They have a free trial and it is something to at least look into.

TNO Chronicles: What are some of the things you do in your free time, other than study?
Heart work: Bake! I’ve become a little bit of foodie and love baking. Plus, there’s no better way to make friends at the library than to bring snacks. Hungry med students love people who feed them. ;)

I also work out when I can. I love being outside so running and hiking are favorites. And I’m addicted to Netflix just like the rest of the world and love being lazy while watching endless TV or movies.  

TNO Chronicles: What is a valuable lesson you've learned as a student thus far? 
Heart work: Medical school is very challenging. I remember everyone telling me that when I was applying – friends, advisers, and current medical students. So while I was “expecting” it to be challenging, it still came as a shock. There is just so much to know.  That old metaphor that gets thrown around comparing medical school to drinking out of a fire hose is completely true. So, I guess what I’ve learned is to lower my expectations a bit. Not the expectations I have of myself – to work really hard and commit to doing my best to master all of the concepts. But the expectations I have concerning things like my GPA. I am not a straight A med student. I’m just not. I work hard and pass all my classes, but I do not have a 4.0. And that’s ok. I think ultimately it has come down to me being at peace with what I accomplish when I know I’ve done my best, and not comparing my results to anyone else’s.

TNO Chronicles:  What motivates you to stay positive during your studies?
Heart work: This is such a good question and an important thing to get a handle on when you start medical school. It doesn’t take long to figure out that one thing med students are really good at is complaining. It’s shocking. There are people in my class I actively go out of my way to avoid because every time I run into them they’re miserable! And I get it. You’re studying all day –stressing out the only way med students can – and it’s easy to get in a “funk.” But still, don’t be that person! Find things that make you happy, and make time to do them!

I am blessed with a solid support system of friends and family back home. If I’m having a rough day, or even if I’m not, I make time to call the people who have always supported and encouraged me. I also have solid people in my med school circle I can commiserate with. ;)

There is also nothing like a good post workout high. So getting to the gym and moving those muscles we learn so much about (origin, insertion anyone?!) is another way I stay positive. Gotta love those endorphins!

But the biggest thing that helps me is my faith. I’m a Christian and I find so much peace knowing that God has gotten me this far and He will continue to see me through any and all trials that life brings. The verse that always winds up on my heart before every big exam is Psalm 94:18-19 “When I said ‘My foot is slipping,’ your love, Oh Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.”

TNO Chronicles: If you could sum up your medical school experience thus far in three words, what will they be?
Heart work: Oh boy, here it goes: challenging, consuming, rewarding.

I hope you all enjoyed Morgan's contribution as much as I did. I learned a lot of things I didn't know before regarding D.O.'s. Feel free to comment and post your questions. I'll be happy to hear your thoughts. 

-Morgan is a second year DO student who blogs over at Heart Work and who took the time to answer a few questions regarding her journey thus far as a student. I'd like to thank her for taking the time to be a guest blogger and to enlighten us about the DO path. 


  1. Good Night,
    I am a new reader I guess you could say I literally just read your interview on accepted a few seconds ago and was sooo eager to read everything you have to say. I just want to tell you how much just having this blog has inspired me to continue my pursuit in becoming a position. I too am a bahamian and adventist☺ and for the past few weeks I have just been trying to find some good advice which is really hard especially in the carribean. I just think it's great to just have persons who have been there before try to help the up and coming generations and I thank you for that.Just a quick comment though I wanted to comment under your latest post but there was no comment section so I basically frantically flipped through your blogs to see if the comments section was enabled so sorry if this far down I'm not even sure if you will see this but if you do thank you again☺ let me start reading now😊😊

    1. I'm honored to know that I've been an inspiration to you during your pursuit of medicine and becoming a Physician. It can be a rollercoaster of an experience but the key is to always keep at the forefront of your mind the reason why you're pursuing medicine and your God given talents. I'm always willing to help so if you're ever faced with questions or have concerns be sure to send me an email or leave a comment. Sorry if the comment section was disabled, I've been changing the layout and some features of the blog so be sure to scroll to the end of the post, and you may find the comment section there.

      Happy reading and thanks again for your comment and for following along :D

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