Ask the Program Director: Your Osteopathic Questions Answered
Ask the Program Director is a new feature that will focus on providing medical students practical advice to help them navigate the process of obtaining a residency position in internal medicine. Issues to be covered include CV development, writing a personal statement, the Match process, residency program interviews, and more.
Would you recommend an osteopathic medical student to take the USMLE if he or she was planning on applying to dual-accredited residencies? Do the medical subspecialties have a requirement for the USMLE or does only your board certification matter?
Neither the specialty nor the medical subspecialties “require” USMLE. Both COMLEX and USMLE are licensing exams and either full set qualifies an individual for state licensure. If the program is dual-accredited it is likely to be familiar with interpretation of COMLEX scores. Scores on standardized exams are but one component of the student application (see answers below). That being said, high scores on USMLE will enhance the application especially in allopathic fellowship programs. Thus, DOs considering subspecialty training may benefit from taking the USMLEs in addition to their COMLEX exams.
How can an osteopathic medical student increase his or her chances of getting into an allopathic program?
Program directors are looking for students who have shown that they can excel in many areas. The more outstanding achievements you can document, the stronger your application will be. Excellence can be demonstrated in any or all of these:
- academic excellence such as great grades on your transcripts
- a strong background in research or other scholarly activities
- letters of recommendations from people who know you well and can speak to your strengths
- high scores on standardized tests (COMLEX or USMLE)
- academic, professional, and or personal achievements
- leadership roles in volunteerism
It is also useful to research the programs you are applying to or interested in. Look at a program's track record of accepting DO candidates. However, do not be discouraged by a record that shows fewer DO candidates as the program may have not had many DO applicants in the past. Each program may have different preferences which could be reflected in their current house-staff roster. Also, potentially scheduling a fourth year elective during medical school at a few institutions that you are especially interested in and creating a great impression can be helpful. Be prepared to distinguish your training from allopathic training and then consider how you would be able to utilize your experience in the future.
In your selection process for interview and for residency, are the medical schools from which the applicants come more important than the board scores that they have received? If that is the case, are osteopathic medical students still at a disadvantage when they apply to allopathic residency programs?
Most program directors will look at both the medical school the student is from and his or her standardized exam scores when evaluating an application. In addition they will look at the transcripts, letters of recommendation, previous experiences (CV), and personal statement prior to inviting a student for an interview. There is no single formula for weighing the importance of each of these, and it is likely that each program does it slightly differently. Although some programs may prefer students from an allopathic medical school over those from an osteopathic school, the strengths and weaknesses of the individual applicant are far more important. Most programs would prefer a great resident from an osteopathic school over a weak resident from an allopathic school. In addition, if a program has had good experience with candidates from a particular DO school, this will also be favorable for the candidate.
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