Before Delaney Lehmann ’18 entered the pre-med track at Hillsdale, she had never heard of osteopathic medicine. After being exposed to both osteopathic (D.O.) and allopathic (M.D.) schools, however, she felt a D.O. degree would align best with the education she had received at Hillsdale.
“When I read the osteopathic tenants, the two that stuck out to were that the body is a unit, and that it is composed of body, mind, and spirit,” Lehmann said. “Those ideas which I encountered in classes at Hillsdale applied to how I think about medicine because, as a physician, those are ideas I want to bring to my practice anyway. At a D.O. school, those ideas are acknowledged outright, and that was very important to me.”
Lehmann is one of around 20 Hillsdale students who applied to medical schools in the past academic year and one of about 15 who were accepted. Two-thirds of those students pursued D.O. programs, and one-third pursued M.D. programs, but most years, the ratio is about half and half, according to Professor of Chemistry Christopher Hamilton, who also serves as faculty advisor for the pre-professional society, which assists students in pursuing various health careers.
D.O.s emphasize a holistic approach to medicine and often decide to become general practitioners, while M.D.s often choose to specialize in a particular field of medicine. There is also a much larger percentage of M.D.s than D.O.s on a national scale: of all 2017 residents and fellows in programs accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, M.D.s made up 63.6 percent, D.O.s made up 12.5 percent, and international medical graduates made up 23.8 percent, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges’ 2018 Physician Specialty Data Report.
Some Hillsdale students say they appreciate the osteopathic approach because of its focus on the patient rather than on the disorder, while others appreciate the more traditional M.D., or allopathic route. Additionally, some students who originally pursue the M.D. sometimes choose the D.O. because their GPA or Medical College Admissions Test scores aren’t high enough to get them into many M.D. schools. The average GPA for M.D. students is 3.8, while the average for D.O.s would be closer to 3.5, Hamilton said. Some D.O. schools will also consider a student’s ACT score as a part of their application if their MCAT isn’t high enough.
“The important thing I emphasize to students is, you’re a medical doctor either way,” Hamilton said. “There are some historical differences, there are some philosophical differences. You go back 50 years, and there was a real bias against D.O.s. But really over time that has gone away.”
About 56 percent of D.O.s end up practicing primary care, according to MD Magazine. Nicole Schmitt ‘14, who recently graduated from Marian University College of Osteopathic Medicine in Indianapolis and is currently working in Indianapolis as a family practice resident, developed an interest in primary care well before college. After watching some of her family members go through health issues growing up, she said what resonated with her most was the doctors who stayed with them long term.
“I love preventative medicine and the idea that, as a family doctor, if I see someone every year, I have the opportunity to teach them about their health and make sure that I’m doing what I need to do to monitor things so that we can keep them healthy before they get sick and to help prevent disease,” Schmitt said. “Normally if you go to a specialist, you’re going there if you’re already sick, but if you go to a family doctor, they’re going to be the front line in keeping patients healthy.”
Schmitt said she originally thought she would be an M.D. until her junior year at Hillsdale when she began researching more about D.O. schools and found they tend to prepare students well for primary care.
“I think the kind of students that go to Hillsdale would flourish more at an osteopathic school,” she said. “Not that they wouldn’t at an M.D. school. But I just think in general from what I’ve seen, I think Hillsdale students would be happy in an osteopathic route, and I think they do a good job of exposing us to that at Hillsdale.”
Schmitt also noted that several M.D. schools turned down her application based solely on her grades, while Marian University placed more emphasis on her interview and personal statements. Schmitt said in order to make her resume appealing to D.O. schools, she tried to make her education as well-rounded as possible, graduating with a bachelor of arts instead of a bachelor of science, and double-majoring in biochemistry and German. She said that Marian University told her German was a “huge plus” when they were considering her application.
“Just having that skill to sit down and read a work or watch a film or talk to someone and interpret what they’re telling you through their lens, and knowing that the German people have a very different experience than you have had historically, it’s a very great skill to have, because when you’re talking to a patient and you’re interviewing them, and you’re getting an idea of their health and what’s going on, their life experience is going to be completely different than what might be natural or normal for you,” Schmitt said.
Lydia Seipel ’18, who is currently pursuing her master’s degree in nursing at Case Western Reserve University, originally came to Hillsdale intending to pursue an M.D. and was not aware of the D.O. option. She said she was surprised by Hillsdale’s connections to D.O. schools and wished she could have had more exposure to M.D. schools.
Hillsdale’s connections with medical schools do vary from year to year, depending on the interest of students, according to senior and President of the Pre-professional Society Josh Brown. In the last three to four years, the college has had representatives from various D.O. programs visit the school, including Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, Liberty University, and Marian University, as well as some from M.D. programs, including Western Michigan, Oakland University, and University of Michigan.
Seipel also noted that while the college does an excellent job preparing students for the rigors of medical school, it is also difficult to get in without good grades.
“For anyone who is in the pre-med track, your GPA is absolutely everything,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re the most well-rounded student; if you do not get a good GPA it doesn’t matter, because you’re going to be held up against someone from another school who has a 4.0, aced their MCAT, who volunteered. I don’t think that’s necessarily the fault of Hillsdale, but I just think it’s an additional obstacle that any Hillsdale student is going to have to overcome.”
Despite the college’s academic rigor, Hillsdale students’ medical school acceptance rates are fairly high. According to Hamilton, the first-time acceptance rate for both M.D. and D.O. school applicants from Hillsdale over the past five years, including those who apply late, is 73 percent. Over 90 percent of the students who apply to Osteopathic medical schools are accepted, as well as 54 percent of M.D. applicants (the national M.D. applicant acceptance rate is 45 percent). The percentage of those who are accepted upon re-application is in the high 90s.
As far as test scores and GPA go, Lehmann said she doesn’t think they are a good measure of how good of a doctor someone will be.
“I think a person’s personality and way they view and treat other people is just as important as how well you can score on a test, or more important in a lot of cases,” she said.
Hillsdale students pursue the M.D. for various reasons. Senior Catherine Bodnar, who is planning to pursue a dual M.D. and M.B.A., said that, although she was more drawn to the osteopathic approach, she knew the M.D. would allow her more options for a dual degree. She also said that regardless of what career route she chose, she felt that her education at Hillsdale has prepared her very well for medical school applications.
“Even for the MCAT, I just know some big state schools have specific courses that deal specifically with preparing for the English and critical reasoning and analysis section of that exam,” she said. “And Hillsdale doesn’t have any of that, but Hillsdale has Great Books. Just going through those courses and taking that exam, I felt like that was more than enough preparation.”
Elisabeth Wynia ’16, who is in her third year in Case Western’s M.D. program and plans to do international medical missions after she graduates, said she thinks in the end there aren’t a whole lot of differences between M.D.s and D.O.s as both study to become doctors and often go to the same residency programs.
“The perception is that the D.O. is holistically-minded, but my view is, you can be holistically-minded as an M.D. or as a D.O,” she said. “So I chose to have the best of both worlds, in my mind, and get the M.D., which is a little bit more internationally-recognized, and then personally develop an attitude of treating the whole person.”