Choosing the right medical school can seem like a daunting task, but with proper guidance and a little research it is entirely possible to find the perfect fit. However, there are numerous factors that need to be taken into account in order to make an informed decision.
In this blog post, we’ll explore which type of medical school is right for you and how you can decide which one will offer the best education based on your background and needs.
“Before picking your top choice for medical school, there are a few things you should take into account,” says Dr. Hans Wolf, M.D. and founder of WOLFPACC Physicians Achievement Concept Course. “With the proper due diligence and some forward planning, you can make a knowledgeable decision to set yourself up for a successful future as a practicing physician.”
Becoming a doctor or a medical professional is an invaluable experience that can lead to many opportunities, both professionally and financially. But, from location and curriculum to tuition fees and residency requirements, there are many variables that can affect your overall experience at medical school as well as your long-term career advancement prospects. To get started, let’s explore your options based on the types of medical schools available for aspiring students.
Different Kinds of Medical Schools
If you are a prospective medical student, there are four basic types of medical schools that may be a good fit for your educational and professional goals: allopathic, osteopathic, naturopathic, and international. Within the United States, allopathic and osteopathic schools offer traditional MD and DO degrees respectively upon graduation. Additionally, students may opt for naturopathic schools tailored toward holistic healing or international programs offered outside the U.S. borders. Both can provide a unique learning experience for undergraduates seeking further education in medicine.
1) Allopathic Medical Schools – Becoming an allopathic physician, also known as an MD, is the most popular program and med school pathway. After completing post-baccalaureate/premed coursework that typically takes at least seven years of study including residency requirements, doctors also must pass all Steps of the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) that assess a physician’s ability to apply knowledge, concepts, principles, and to demonstrate fundamental patient-centered skills.
- PROS: Allopathic medicine (an archaic label for science-based modern medicine) focuses on using the latest technology to diagnose and treat illnesses and injuries to alleviate symptoms and improve the quality of life for patients.
- CONS: Competition for MD programs is fierce, so you will need to have stellar grades and good test scores to get accepted. In addition, you do miss out on the hands-on approach to medicine taught in osteopathic programs. MD schools are often at larger universities where cost of living can be more expensive.
Also referred to as conventional or modern medicine, allopathic medicine is the most widely practiced type of medicine in the United States. MDs seek to diagnose and treat ailments from disease, often through the application of surgeries and pharmaceutical drugs.
2) Osteopathic Medical Schools – Through the combined efforts of a father and son duo, osteopathic medicine was founded in the United States as an alternative to mainstream allopathic medicine. Osteopaths, also known as a DO, consider underlying causes of illness or structure impairments rather than solely focusing on immediate diagnoses with pharmaceutical remedies. DOs strive to care for patients as a whole person by combining root-cause therapies alongside healthcare options tailored for optimal patient wellbeing.
- PROS: Students attending osteopathic medical schools learn more of a hands-on approach to medicine with more emphasis on nutrition and healthy living as opposed to a more pronounced use of medications to treat symptoms.
- CONS: Because there are more MD students than DO students, the competition can be stiffer when it comes to matching into a highly competitive residency program. DO students train at stand alone medical schools that may have higher cost of tuition.
Both allopathic and osteopathic programs provide graduates with equal opportunity to gain residency or fellowship entry into any specialty area and medical licensure throughout the fifty U.S. states. More than 25 percent of U.S. medical students are studying osteopathic medicine and have to complete all Levels of COMLEX-USA licensing exam.
3) International Medical Schools – With around 25 percent of American doctors having earned degrees at either foreign or Caribbean medical schools, aspiring physicians have the unique opportunity of studying at an international med school to pursue his or her studies. World-class international medical schools can be appealing with easier enrollment processes, better chance of acceptance, high-quality education, lower academic costs, and more convenient policies. The average GPA and MCAT scores for matriculants are much lower.
- PROS: International medical schools offer a second chance to students who have little to no shot at getting accepted to a MD or DO medical school. A few Caribbean med schools offer clinical rotations in the U.S. for 3rd and 4th year students. Often students can matriculate during the year.
- CONS: There is no guarantee that you will become a doctor with limited options for residency. Students trying to match into very competitive specialties should know that only 50% of foreign medical school graduates matched into residencies. So, you should try to score higher on your USMLE Step 1.
Most medical schools that are geographically located in the Caribbean exist primarily to train medical students from the United States. The majority of these offer dual-campus programs where the sciences are studied abroad while subsequent medical clerkships and clinical rotations are completed at hospitals in the United States.
4) Naturopathic Medical Schools – A naturopathic physician is educated in the same basic sciences as a MD but also studies holistic and nontoxic approaches to therapy with a strong emphasis on optimizing patient wellness through disease prevention. Like a conventional MD, DO, or IMG, the naturopathic doctor first completes an undergraduate degree and then enters into a four-year, full-time accredited naturopathic medical school. Curricula focuses on a range of therapeutic methods and substances to stimulate a patient’s self-healing abilities.
- PROS: Naturopathic medical schools provide students with the education needed to become fully certified physicians that are trained in diagnosing and treating illnesses and disorders. Naturopaths can practice in specialized areas and are able to prescribe medications in certain states.
- CONS: While anyone can go to school to become an ND, there are strict regulations surrounding the practice of naturopathy in the United States. Moreover, not every state allows licensure of NDs to practice medicine. Most NDs do not perform surgeries but refer patients when appropriate.
Students studying naturopathic medicine have experiences that are similar to osteopathic students, but in addition receive training in natural medicine modalities such as botanical medicine. Naturopathic medicine is the least common area of medical study and the number of medical schools offering programs is limited.
Who Is Eligible to Take the USMLE or COMLEX-USA?
The United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) and the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX-USA) are similar exams that test allopathic and osteopathic students on the fundamentals of medicine. Although the material tested is very similar, the COMLEX exams include questions on osteopathic manipulative medicine for aspiring DOs.
“Before the American Osteopathic Association and the American Council for Graduate Medical Education merged to form one accrediting body for residencies,” explains Dr. Wolf, “DOs and international medical graduates often choose to take the USMLE Step exams to improve their chances during their residency selection process.”
NDs do not take the USMLE or COMLEX. The North American Board of Naturopathic Examiners serves as the regulating body to qualify applicants to take all levels of the NPLEX (Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Examinations). Students acquire an extensive knowledge of current standard care and complete clinic shifts as well as learn how to read other provider’s (e.g. – MDs and DOs) charts.
Non-Allopathic Requirements and Exceptions
Listed below are some of the unique situations that arise where non-allopathic medical school students may consider taking the USMLE exams:
- a. Osteopathic students must take and pass the COMLEX-USA but also have the option to take the USMLE Step exams if they choose.
- b. IMGs cannot apply for U.S. residency without completing USMLE Step 1 and Step 2 CK successfully.
- c. Foreign medical school graduates also must complete all elements of the USMLE including Step 3 to apply for medical licensure.
- d. International doctors who choose not to complete the USMLE can work within the U.S. within certain non-clinical roles, but licensure is required for all practicing physicians in any unsupervised setting.
To satisfy the medical science examination requirement for the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG Certification), foreign doctors must pass the USMLE Step 1 (basic sciences) and Step 2 CK (clinical knowledge). Some osteopathic students also choose to take the USMLE Step 1 in tandem with his or her COMLEX-USA Level 1, but these exams are now pass/fail and no longer provide numeric scores for inclusion on residency applications.
Based on your specific needs, WOLFPACC focuses on helping medical students master his or her test taking skills to be better prepared for all USMLE and COMLEX-USA exams as well as to become a more competent practicing physician. Let Dr. Hans Wolf and his experienced staff empower you with the skills to achieve exceptional results at any level on any medical licensing exam.
Photo by George Pak