For those of you that don’t know, there are actually two different types of physicians, MDs and DOs. The schooling is virtually identical, except DOs learn osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT). This is a treatment technique in which the physician manipulates the musculoskeletal system in such a way to facilitate healing. OMT can be used for a variety of different things from improving muscle imbalance to increasing the efficacy of vaccines.
As far as boards go, MD students take the USMLE while DO students take the COMLEX and have the option of taking the USMLE as well. The MD and DO residencies are currently separate, but we are in year 2 of a 5-year phase merger. Soon there will be one system that licenses both MDs and DOs. Most MD residencies accept COMLEX scores, but many students choose to take the USMLE to ensure that their scores are compared accurately against MD students.
Because the merger is happening, DO students should be able to just take the COMLEX, because eventually all residencies will be required to accept both board exams. When you look at the statistics put out by the AAMC, DO students need a much higher COMLEX score on average to be competitive. However, if DO students choose to take the USMLE, they can get a score that is average for the specialty they are applying to in order to be competitive. Essentially, you need to do exceptionally well on the COMLEX to be just as competitive as what an ‘average’ USMLE score (for the same specialty) will get you.
Right now, it seems more advantageous to take both the USMLE and the COMLEX as DO students. It will be interesting to see how the statistics change as the merger continues to take place!