osteopathic medicine career options

Two types of medical degrees are available in the United States: Medical Doctor (M.D.) and Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.). Both degrees require four years of medical school in addition to a bachelor’s degree. Both also allow physicians and surgeons to use the same treatment methods, but D.O.s may emphasize preventive medicine and holistic care, according to explorehealthcareers.org.

An osteopathic physician, or D.O., is a board-certified physician who is fully licensed to practice in every state and in more than 65 countries worldwide. As licensed physicians, they diagnose, treat, prescribe medications and perform surgery. 

Osteopathic medicine is a distinct form of medical practice: It provides all of the benefits of modern medicine, including prescription drugs, surgery and the use of technology to diagnose disease and evaluate injury. It also offers the added benefit of hands-on diagnosis and treatment through a system of treatment known as osteopathic manipulative medicine. Osteopathic medicine emphasizes helping each person achieve a high level of wellness by focusing on health promotion and disease prevention. 

PennWest California offers an Early Acceptance Program with the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine (LECOM),enabling PennWest California biology majors in the pre-professional concentration to follow a pathway toward a career in osteopathic medicine, pharmacy or dental medicine.

Under the Early Acceptance Program, qualified PennWest California undergraduates in the B.S. in Biology: Pre-professional program can be assured of provisional acceptance – in essence, a “reserved seat” – in LECOM's College of Osteopathic Medicine, School of Pharmacy or School of Dental Medicine. Students in the Early Acceptance Program must complete a successful interview and meet all academic requirements.  

 Career Opportunities

Approximately 74,000 licensed osteopathic physicians are in active practice in the United States, and more than 20% of all U.S. medical students are studying at a college of osteopathic medicine to earn a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree, reports the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM).

  • O.s practice the full scope of medicine in all medical specialties, from pediatrics to geriatrics, sports medicine to trauma surgery.
  • Osteopathic physicians may decide to work as surgeons in a hospital setting, in a hospital’s emergency department, or in another hospital unit, caring for patients with injuries or life-threatening illnesses such as heart failure or serious conditions like diabetes.
  • In laboratories across the country, osteopathic physician researchers look for the cause of illnesses and for new and better ways to treat all kinds of diseases and injuries.
  • O.s also run medical centers and teach future generations of physicians and other healthcare practitioners.


Many D.O.s also decide on a solo or group practice in which they:

  • Examine patients and take medical histories.
  • Order, perform and interpret diagnostic tests.
  • Prescribe and administer treatment for patients suffering from injury or disease.
  • Counsel patients about their health, providing advice about staying in good health, alleviating symptoms of chronic conditions, improving eating habits, and learning to break bad habits like smoking.

The majority of D.O.s practice general or family medicine, general internal medicine or general pediatrics, with a special focus on providing care in underserved rural and urban areas. 

Wages for physicians and surgeons are among the highest of all occupations. According to the Medical Group Management Association’s Physician Compensation and Production Survey, median total compensation for physicians varies with their type of practice. In 2015, physicians practicing primary care received total median annual compensation of $251,578, and physicians practicing in medical specialties received total median annual compensation of $425,509.

Strong Job Prospects

Overall employment of physicians and surgeons is projected to grow 13% through 2026, faster than the average for all occupations, reports the Occupational Outlook Handbook from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

The growing and aging population is expected to drive overall growth in the demand for physician services. As the older population grows and rates of chronic illnesses increase, consumers will seek high levels of care that use the latest technologies, diagnostic tests and therapies, says the BLS.

However, demand for physicians’ services is sensitive to changes in healthcare reimbursement policies, according to the BLS. Consumers may seek fewer physician services if changes to health coverage result in higher out-of-pocket costs for them.

Job prospects are expected to be very good because almost all graduates of domestic medical schools are matched to residencies (their first jobs as physicians) immediately after graduating. 

Prospects should be especially good for physicians who are willing to practice in rural and low-income areas, because these areas tend to have difficulty attracting physicians. Job prospects also should be good for physicians in specialties dealing with health issues that mainly affect aging baby boomers. For example, physicians specializing in cardiology and radiology will be needed because the risks for heart disease and cancer increase as people age.

All states require physicians and surgeons to be licensed; requirements vary by state. To qualify for a license, candidates must graduate from an accredited medical school and complete residency training in their specialty.

All physicians and surgeons also must pass a standardized national licensure exam. M.D.s take the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). D.O.s take the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX-USA). Individual state medical boards can provide information about licensing.

 Certification is not required for physicians and surgeons; however, it may increase their employment opportunities. M.D.s and D.O.s seeking board certification in a specialty may spend up to seven years in residency training; the length of time varies with the specialty. To become board certified, candidates must complete a residency program and pass a specialty certification exam from a certifying board such as the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS), the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) or the American Board of Physician Specialties (ABPS).

Get the right preparation for your career in osteopathic medicine at PennWest California. Apply now!   

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Qualified biology majors can be assured of provisional acceptance in LECOM's College of Osteopathic Medicine, School of Pharmacy or School of Dental Medicine.

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Earn your undergraduate biology degree at PennWest California – and take advantage of an exceptional opportunity to pave the way to your future in osteopathic medicine.

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Healthcare occupations are projected to add more jobs than any of the other occupational groups. Discover professional opportunities in pharmacy, dentistry and osteopathic medicine.

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