Osteopathic Medicine

There are many pieces to the medical school application, including your GPA, MCAT score, personal statement, list of experiences, letters of recommendation, and biographical information. Use the navigation below to explore each aspect of preparing for osteopathic medical school.

What is an osteopathic physician?

Becoming a doctor


Medical Colleges Admissions Test (MCAT)

What is an osteopathic physician?

  • Osteopathic physicians receive a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, or D.O.
  • Osteopathic physicians receive the same medical training as allopathic physicians, as well as 200 hours of "osteopathic manipulative medicine" (OMM) training. Learn more about OMM from the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM). 
  • What makes a good osteopathic medical student?

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Becoming a doctor

Becoming a physician is a lifelong commitment to continuing education and in many cases a demanding lifestyle. In general, the path to becoming a doctor includes the following steps:

  1. Obtain an bachelor's degree and complete all pre-medical requirements, including prerequisites, the MCAT, and experiences (4+ years)
  2. Attend medical school (4 years)
  3. Complete residency (3-5 years)*
    1. Optional: Complete fellowship (length varies)
  4. Become licensed in the state you wish to practice
  5. Maintain certification & complete Continuing Medical Education (ongoing)

* By 2020, all osteopathic and allopathic residencies will be accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME), and both M.D. and D.O. graduates will be able to apply to all of the same residencies within one system. What does this mean for you? D.O. graduates can pursue any residency or fellowship and go into any medical specialty that an M.D. graduate can. Learn more about Graduate Medical Education opportunities for osteopathic medical students

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Prerequisites for Osteopathic Medical School

Myth: If I'm going to get a C- in a class, I should intentionally get a D or F in that class in order to retake it for a better grade.

Fact: Do not fail a class on purpose in order to retake it for a better grade. Even though the lower grade will not be included in your UC Davis GPA, it will remain on your transcript and most centralized applications will count that first grade into your application GPA.

Additionally, the health profession schools will still see it. It is better to have a C- in the course and improve through other courses in the same discipline than to take a D or F.

Most health professional schools require all prerequisites to be completed with a C or higher. Although you cannot repeat the C- at UC Davis, you will need to repeat it somewhere else either over a summer or after graduation.

If you need to discuss this or any other academic difficulty futher, please make an appointment with a staff advisor. 

mcat and med school prerequisites

Med School Prerequisites at UC Davis

Most schools require:
General Chemistry (CHE 2ABC)
General Biology (BIS 2ABC)
Organic Chemistry (CHE 118ABC)
Physics (PHY 7ABC)
English Composition (3 quarters of ENL or UWP classes)

Some schools require:
Biochemistry (BIS 102/BIS 103 or 105)
Behavioral Science (PSC, SOC, ANT, etc.)
Math (Statistics & Calculus classes)*
Upper division science courses

Some schools recommend:
Upper division biological science coursework
Social sciences & humanities

See the Osteopathic Medical School Prerequisite Chart for a sample list of medical schools and their requirements.

*Check your major requirements before choosing classes.

Note: The above courses are only suggested, not absolute. 

  • To prepare academically as a pre-medical student, you'll need to take the medical school prerequisites and coursework to prepare for the MCAT. School prerequisites and MCAT prep coursework overlap but are not the same. See the courses HPA recommends students take before the MCAT.
  • Each medical school has different prerequisites and can change its prerequisites at any time. 
  • You can choose any major and apply to medical school. If you choose a non-science major, you still have to take the science prerequisites required by most schools. Always cross-check your major requirements with the medical school requirements when choosing classes.
  • Complete all of your prerequisite courses for a letter grade - DO NOT take any of them P/NP.
  • HPA recommends that pre-medical students maintain a minimum GPA of 3.0, although many medical schools will have GPA averages above this minimum.
    • IMPORTANT NOTICE: Starting in the 2017-2018 application cycle, AACOMAS will no longer forgive repeated courses. AACOMAS will include all grades in the GPA calculations from now on. Learn more about this new policy. 
  • In the application process, medical schools look at your overall GPA as well as your science GPA. For AACOMAS, your science GPA includes Biochemistry, Biology/Zoology, Inorganic Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Physics, and Other ScienceLearn more about AACOMAS course classification.  

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The Medical Colleges Admissions Test (MCAT) is...

  • required by all medical schools.
  • over 7 hours long.
  • includes four sections:
    • Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
    • Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills
    • Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
    • Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
    • Learn more about what’s on the MCAT.
  • a content-based test.  

Health Professions Advising recommends that students take the following courses before studying for the MCAT:

  • Biology (BIS 2ABC)
  • Chemistry (CHEM 2ABC)
  • Organic Chemistry (CHE 118ABC)
  • Physics (PHY 7 or 9)
  • Biochemistry (BIS 102 & 103, OR 105)
  • Physiology (NPB 101 or 110ABC)
  • Psychology (PSC 1)
  • Sociology (SOC 1, 3, or 154 recommended)
  • Statistics (STA 13 or 100)
  • CARS Preparation (HIS 2/STS 2, PHI 5, or PHI 15)
  • See HPA's Guide to Standardized Tests to learn more.

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Myth: I can do a lot of meaningful experiences to make up for a weaker GPA.

Fact:  Having many meaningful activities will NOT make up for a low GPA.

You must focus on your grades during your undergraduate years, earn at least a 3.0, and then begin adding experiences. You can always take a year or two off after graduation to gain more experience. It is better to graduate from UC Davis with a higher GPA and less experiences than lots of experiences but a low GPA. 

Pre-Medical Student Organizations at UC Davis

Student organizations are a great way to obtain health experience and network with peers and professionals. Pre-medical clubs at UC Davis include:

UC Davis Pre-Med SOMA

Undergraduate AMWA at UC Davis

Minority Association of Pre-Medical Students

  • Asking, "Will this look good on a medical school application?" is the wrong way to approach your pre-medical experience. Medical schools will see who you are and what you care about through experiences that align with your interests, goals, and passions (See more about entering Experiences in AACOMAS). Whatever you choose to do, be sure you are dedicated, passionate about it, and motivated to pursue it for the right reason!
  • HPA recommends that you first build a strong GPA and gradually build up your experiences. This may require that you take some time off after graduating before you apply, but it is much better to apply later with a strong GPA than to apply early with lots of experience but a weak GPA.

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AACOMAS Instruction Manual

AACOM Instructions

Before applying, read through the AACOMAS Instruction Manual. You are responsible for knowing this information. 

Applying to Medical School

AACOMAS (Primary Application)
  • AACOMAS (American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service) is the first stage of your osteopathic medical school application. It is also referred to as your “primary application.”
  • Key AACOMAS Dates:
    • May 4: 2017-2018 AACOMAS application cycle opens for submissions.
    • June 15: Schools begin receiving and processing 2017-2018 cycle applications.
    • Each school will have its own AACOMAS deadline, and most school deadlines fall between October and April. You can find a list of individual school deadlines here.
  • You must apply the year before you plan on starting medical school. (For example, if you plan to start medical school in the fall of 2020, you must apply in the spring of 2019.) 
  • There are 4 sections of your primary application:
    • Personal Information
    • Academic History
    • Supporting Information
    • Program Materials

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Personal Statement
  • Your personal statement should answer the question "Why osteopathic medicine?" The formal prompt is the following:
    • In the space provided write a brief statement expressing your motivation or desire to become a DO.
  • AACOMAS allows 4500 characters for your personal statement.
  • Your personal statement should not be a list of experiences. The Experiences and Achievements sections will be a list of your experiences. Use your essay to tell them something they do not already know about you.
  • The personal statement is your first chance to provide medical school admissions committees with subjective information about your qualifications and your reasons for choosing this particular career. In other words, the personal statement is your initial opportunity to present yourself as an interesting and unique applicant who deserves a closer look.

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  • In AACOMAS, you will designate each of your experiences as one of the following types of experiences:
    • Non-Healthcare Employment
    • Extracurricular Activities
    • Non-Healthcare Volunteer or Community Enrichment
    • Healthcare Experience
  • You will have 600 characters to describe each of these experiences. 
  • You can add additional experiences after you submit your application, but you cannot update or delete completed ones. 
  • You need to keep track of the details of every experience you aim to include on the application, including the organization name, location, a supervisor's contact information, the date you started and ended, and how many hours a week you spent at this experience. HPA's Experience Tracker document can help you with this task.

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Letters of Recommendation (Evaluations)
  • Most medical schools will require at least three letters of recommendation.
  • Often times schools will ask or recommend that your letters come from specific people, including:
    • Science faculty (Usually schools ask for 2 letters from science faculty)
    • Non-science or major faculty
    • Non-academic professionals
    • Osteopathic physicians or other health professionals
  • Once a reference is completed on the AACOMAS application, it may NOT be removed or replaced. Research your schools' requirements before entering evaluator information in AACOMAS.
  • Some schools may want letters mailed directly to them rather than uploaded to AACOMAS. Visit the Program Page in AACOMAS for each school you plan on applying to to see school-specific instructions.

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Supplemental Essays (Secondary Application)
  • Supplemental applications are sent by each school you've applied to after the primary application has been submitted.
  • Some medical schools will send a supplemental application to every applicant, while others will pre-screen the applicant pool and only send them to those who are most qualified.
  • In most cases, supplemental applications contain additional short essays specific to that school. They can also include questionnaires, ask for a resume, or ask for a professional headshot.
  • While each school's supplemental essays will be different, some common questions include:
    • How would you bring diversity to this medical school?
    • Why have you chosen to apply to this medical school? 
    • Given our mission statement, what makes you a good fit for our medical school?
    • If you are currently not a matriculated student, please indicate what you have been doing since the time of graduation until now.
    • Is there anything else you would like us to know?
  • Supplemental applications cost anywhere from $50-$120 per school.
Choosing Where to Apply
International Students
  • International students are those requiring a student visa to remain in the United States to study.
  • Applying to medical school can be more complex and challenging for international students, but Health Professions Advising and other campus resources like SISS can help you achieve your dreams of becoming a physician. 
  • Some things international students should keep in mind:
    • Not all osteopathic medical schools accept international students. See a list of schools that accept international students here.
    • Schools will usually only accept a very small number of international students each year, so the applicant pool is very competitive.
    • International students cannot receive federal financial aid such as Direct Stafford, Direct PLUS, and Perkins Loans.
  • Learn more about applying to osteopathic medical schools as an international student

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Frequently Asked Questions

Becoming a doctor

What's the difference between an M.D. and D.O.?

M.D.s attend allopathic medical school, while D.O.s attend osteopathic medical school. 

Both M.D. and D.O. physicians are licensed in all 50 states and can practice the full scope of medicine. They receive identical medical educations, except that D.O.s also learn osteopathic manipulative medicine (OMM), which involves hands-on care to treat, prevent, and diagnose disease. Both M.D. and D.O. students can enter any specialty of medicine. 

Learn more about applying to allopathic medical schools

What is osteopathic medicine?

"​Developed more than 130 years ago by Andrew Taylor Still, MD, DO, osteopathic medicine brings a unique philosophy to traditional medicine. Osteopathic medicine focuses on the whole person, the relationship of the body’s nerves, muscles, bones and organs, and the body’s innate ability to heal itself. Osteopathic medicine is one of the fastest growing health professions, with one out of every five medical students enrolled in a college of osteopathic medicine. 

Osteopathic physicians (DOs) apply the tenets of osteopathic medicine to the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of illness, disease and injury. Osteopathic physicians are fully trained, licensed to prescribe medicine and practice in all medical and surgical specialties and subspecialties."

- American Osteopathic Association 

I am an international student. What do I need to know?

Applying to medical school can be more complex and challenging for international students, but Health Professions Advising and other campus resources like SISS can help you achieve your dreams of becoming a physician. 

Some things international students should keep in mind:

  • Not all osteopathic medical schools accept international students. Schools that accept international students can be viewed here
  • Schools will usually only accept a very small number of international students each year, so the applicant pool is very competitive.
  • International students cannot receive federal financial aid such as Direct Stafford, Direct PLUS, and Perkins Loans.

Learn more about applying to osteopathic medical schools as an international student

Do I need to know what specialty I want to pursue right now?

No, you do not need to know what specialty of medicine you want to pursue right now. In fact, when asked what you want to be, you should simply say "a physician" or "osteopathic doctor." Before you specialize, you first must

  1. be admitted to a medical school
  2. complete the first two years of medical school
  3. take the Step 1 Boards (and score well on the boards)
  4. finish your third year of medical school
  5. interview for residencies during your fourth year of medical school
  6. and finally match to a residency, which will determine your specialty

You do not simply "sign up" for the career in medicine of your choice.

Classes & Prerequisites

What courses satisfy the English requirement for medical schools?

Lower and upper division English (ENL), UWP, and Comparative Literature (COM) courses will satisfy the English requirement for medical schools. You may also take similar classes at a community college. 

Note: Testing out of the upper division UWP course requirement via the Upper Division Composition Exam (UDCE) for graduation does not count towards the medical school requirement. 

Many pre-health students take UWP 104F (see course description here). This is a great option because in this class you will produce a personal statement draft. Consider waiting to take UWP 104F until your junior or senior year, or closer to when you will submit your application.

Which classes count towards the science GPA?

You can find a list of the courses that will be calculated into your AACOMAS science GPA here.

To calculate your science GPA, pull up your Academic Record in OASIS. Along the left side of the course list, you will see boxes. Check off the boxes for the courses you wish to be included in the GPA calculation on the right side of the page.

If I repeat a course, does it affect my AACOMAS GPA?

Starting with the 2017-2018 application cycle, AACOMAS is no longer forgiving first instances of repeated courses. 

What does this mean? This means that every grade you have earned for a course will factor into your medical school application GPA. For example, if you get an F in organic chemistry but retake it for an A, both grades will count towards your GPA. 

Learn more about this new policy.

Should I take BIS 102/103 or BIS 105?

Either BIS 105 or BIS 102/103 will adequately prepare you for the MCAT. Check your major requirements before choosing one over the other. 

Do medical schools accept AP credit or P/NP classes?

Medical schools are not consistent in how they handle AP Credit. In general, pre-medical students should take all prerequisite courses at a college level. 

Most schools will not accept P/NP classes to satisfy prerequisites. 

Can I study abroad?

Studying abroad is a wonderful experience that we encourage you to pursue. It is a valuable experience that provides the opportunity for growth in both maturity and cultural awareness.

You should not study abroad because you are pre-health in an effort to make your application stand out. You should study abroad because you want to gain the experience.

If your study abroad program was through UC Davis Study Abroad or UC Education Abroad (UCEAP), then your coursework will be on your official UC Davis transcript and fullfil prerequisites. If you studied abroad directly through a foreign institution, then your coursework will be on a "foreign transcript," which most health professional schools do not accept. 


When should I take the MCAT?

You should begin studying for the MCAT after you have taken all of the coursework that HPA recommends students take before the MCAT. Many students take the MCAT the summer before they apply to medical school. Consider making an appointment with an advisor to create an application timeline. 

See the AAMC's MCAT Testing Calendar for this year's testing dates.

When should I start studying for the MCAT?

When you are taking your prerequisite courses, you are essentially studying for the MCAT. You should formally begin studying for the MCAT after you have taken all of the coursework that HPA recommends students take before the MCAT. 

Keep in mind that the new MCAT is 7.5 hours long. The test is a content test, but it is also an endurance test. You need to practice reading efficiently and coherently for long periods of time. If you struggle with reading comprehension or test anxiety, we strongly recommend that you address those areas before you attempt the test, such as through a SASC workshop.

Do I need a test prep course?

According to the AAMC, about half of MCAT examinees report that they used a test prep course to prepare for the test. Whether or not you need a course depends on how you study. If you prefer to study at your own pace, there are many resources available online to help you prepare for the test without using a company. 

Learn more about studying for the test.

Applying to medical school

When should I apply to medical school?

You will apply to medical school the spring of the year before you wish to start. For example, if you want to start school in fall 2020, you will apply to AACOMAS in spring 2019. 

There is no right or wrong time to apply, but you should apply when you feel most confident about your application. When you choose to apply is a very personal decision, and we encourage students to talk out their plans with an HPA advisor before settling on a timeline.

What is a gap year?

The term "gap year" refers to the time after your undergraduate education and prior to entering a health professional school. What you decide to do if you take a gap year is up to you. Students spend their gap year(s) doing a variety of activities, including (but not limited to):

  • working and earning money to finance their professional/graduate education
  • pursue things they didn't have time to do as a student (i.e. study abroad, Teach for America, etc.)
  • completing post-bac classes or a master's degree
  • volunteering pursuing community service projects
  • research

Your gap year is a chance to expand and develop in areas you were unable to develop during your undergraduate years. 

What are the advantages of taking a gap year (or years)?

Benefits of a gap year include:

  • An extra year of coursework towards your GPA
  • An extra year to gain experience (both work and life experience)
  • An extra year to build relationships with faculty for letters of recommendation
  • Having more time to take MCAT prep coursework
  • Not missing classes to travel to interviews during your fourth year of college
  • Not being stressed out worrying about acceptances, financial aid, finding housing during your fourth year of college
  • Working and making some money before starting your next step
When should I start writing my personal statement?

The personal statement should be a reflective, well-polished document. You can create your first draft as soon as you want. The more time you give yourself to get feedback and revise the better. Health Professions Advising advisors are happy to read your essay and give you feedback, but please make the appointment at least a month before your deadline.

Please bring a printed draft of your personal statement to appointments and drop-in advising.

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