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Amid competitive application process, pre-medical students turn to osteopathic medicine

Daily Staff Reporter
Published February 25, 2010

LSA senior Elyse Rosenthal always intended to apply to a traditional — or allopathic — medical school. It wasn’t until months into her senior year at the University that she discovered an alternative way to pursue a medical career: studying osteopathic medicine.

Now Rosenthal is scrapping her original plans in favor of going to a different type of medical school that takes a more holistic approach to medicine, focusing on the mind and spirit as well as the body.

Rosenthal said she considers her discovery of osteopathic medicine a “twist of fate” because, for her, it is an ideal way to practice medicine.

“(The) philosophy and mission statements of all the osteopathic schools are exactly how I think practicing medicine should be,” Rosenthal said.

Each year, hundreds of students at the University — and hundreds of thousands of students nationwide — apply to medical school. Only a fraction of them pursue osteopathic medicine, a relatively new practice that emphasizes the role of the muscular skeletal system in overall patient health. Though the University doesn't have a osteopathy program, it is among the top feeder schools in the nation in the number of students who enter the field.

However, in recent years the percentage of students interested in osteopathic medicine has increased substantially, according to medical school experts.

Gina Moses, associate director of application services with the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM), said more students are applying to osteopathy schools across the nation every year.

“We’ve seen about an 11.9-percent increase, while interest in MD schools is pretty much flat-lining,” she said.

According to the AACOM, the University is the second highest feeder school in terms of students applying to and matriculating at osteopathic medical schools.

David Brawn, associate director for continuing student services and pre-health advisor at the University, wrote in e-mail interview that within the last three years, the number of students interested in osteopathic medicine at the University has increased.

“The number of UM students who applied to (Doctor of Osteopathy) schools in 2007 was 195, compared to 388 last year,” he wrote.

Moses said the growing interest is due to numerous factors, like the rising number of osteopathic schools across the country and the increase in class sizes within these schools, among others.

Despite the growth, there are only 29 Doctor of Osteopathy degree-granting schools in the United States, compared with more than 100 Medical Doctor degree-granting schools or allopathic medical schools, according to the 2010 College Information Book published by the AACOM.

Moses said another explanation for the increase in applicants is that osteopathic medicine appeals more to students beginning their medical careers today.

“I believe that the millennial generation is more committed to the personal aspect of medicine and patient care, which are the hallmarks of osteopathic methods,” Moses said.

LSA senior Dustin Harmon said he plans to attend osteopathic school in the fall because osteopathic doctors are less likely to rely on pills and medications as a form of treatment.

“For a headache, you can crack (a patient’s) neck and set it so that it alleviates pressure, rather than just saying, ‘Take some ibuprofen,’” Harmon said.

Rosenthal said practitioners who felt the medical profession was becoming too standardized and impersonal developed the field.

“Osteopathic medicine focuses more on patient history and a lot of outside factors that should be incorporated into a person’s care that sometimes aren’t,” she said.

Though in previous years osteopathic doctors had fewer opportunities to practice their specialty, Brawn wrote that is no longer the case.

“DOs have long since gained rights to practice medicine in all 50 states and in more than 50 different countries,” he wrote.