American Osteopathic Association

Advancing the distinctive philosophy and practice of osteopathic medicine

Preparing Osteopathic Medical Students to Meet Future Health Care Challenges Among Trends in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association's Annual Education Issue

April 2, 2014

(CHICAGO) – The osteopathic medical profession remains committed to focusing on initiatives to improve various aspects of osteopathic medical education and ensure students are prepared to meet health care challenges in the future, as noted in several reports in the recent medical education issue of The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association (JAOA).

A Call for Education Surrounding Electronic Health Record Use

As technological advancements continue to drive changes in health care, the authors of “Keyboard Data Entry Use Among Osteopathic Medical Students and Residents” call for educating and evaluating osteopathic medical students in electronic documentation of patient records rather than continue training them to use paper medical records and written documentation. In an online survey, the majority of osteopathic medical students (51%) reported using electronic keyboard data entry after their clinical rotations. Yet, when they take their Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX-USA), which is a series of examinations providing the pathway to licensure for osteopathic physicians (DOs) in the United States, candidates are evaluated on their ability to document clinical findings using handwritten methods.

Currently, the American Osteopathic Association, the national professional membership organization for the nation’s more than 104,000 DOs and osteopathic medical students, represents one of the fastest-growing segments of health care professionals in the nation as the number of DOs has grown more than 200% over the past 25 years. Today, women account for nearly half the total enrollment in osteopathic medical schools. With more than 50% of DOs in active practice specializing in one of the primary care areas of medicine, the osteopathic medical profession has a strong tradition of serving in rural and medically underserved areas.

Signs of Successful 3-Year Medical School Program

In 2007, the Lake Erie (Pa.) College of Osteopathic Medicine initiated its Primary Care Scholar Pathway, decreasing the time frame from medical school entry to completion by one year. When COMLEX-USA scores for 19 of the program’s graduates were compared to national average scores the results were similar.

In the article “Preliminary Outcomes of the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine’s 3-Year Primary Care Scholar Pathway in Osteopathic Predoctoral Education,” the authors conclude it is possible for osteopathic medical students to attain the same level of education as students in traditional four-year programs while saving them a year of tuition payment. This potential reduction in debt could encourage more students to pursue a career in primary care, which, in turn, could help address the shortage of primary care physicians in the United States, the authors noted.

Considering Additional Medical School Prerequisites

In making sure students are prepared for the rigorous demands of osteopathic medical school, students and faculty at three osteopathic medical schools were surveyed about the importance of specific science concepts, laboratories, research techniques, and possible prerequisite modifications. Current standard medical school prerequisites were established in response to the 1910 publication of Medical Education in the United States and Canada: A Report to the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and have remained basically unchanged over the past century.

The survey findings, reported in an article titled “Student- and Faculty-Reported Importance of Science Prerequisites for Osteopathic Medical School: A Survey-Based Study,” found physiology and biochemistry were identified as possible additional prerequisites. Although it was not listed as an option, the majority of students and faculty indicated anatomy should be added as a prerequisite. The authors conclude it may be necessary for osteopathic medical schools to modify science prerequisites to reflect information that is pertinent to their curricula.

Other osteopathic medical education trends of note:

  • In fall 2013, three osteopathic medical schools welcomed their first classes, bringing the total to 29 osteopathic medical schools offering instruction in 37 locations across the United States.
  • The 2012-2013 academic year had 10,759 osteopathic graduate medical education positions approved in 942 residency programs. This is up from the year before when 9,741 positions in 883 residency programs were approved.
  • Family medicine and internal medicine experienced the most growth this past year with family medicine gaining 341 positions while internal medicine grew by 192 positions.
  • Emergency medicine and general surgery also demonstrated significant growth in terms of the number of new positions with 148 positions and 94 positions, respectively.

For more information about the state of osteopathic medical education, read “Osteopathic Graduate Medical Education 2014” in the JAOA’s education issue.

What is a DO?

DOs are licensed physicians who can prescribe medication and practice in all specialty areas, including surgery, in the United States. They complete four years of medical school followed by graduate medical education through internship and residency programs typically lasting three to eight years. In addition, DOs receive extra training in the musculoskeletal system, providing them with an in-depth knowledge of the ways that illness or injury in one part of the body can affect another. As one of the fastest-growing segments of health care professionals in the nation, the number of DOs has grown more than 200% during the past 25 years.

About The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association

The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association is a monthly peer-reviewed scientific publication produced by the American Osteopathic Association (AOA). The AOA represents more than 104,000 osteopathic physicians (DOs) and osteopathic medical students; promotes public health; encourages scientific research; serves as the primary certifying body for DOs; is the accrediting agency for osteopathic medical schools; and has federal authority to accredit hospitals and other health care facilities. More information on DOs/osteopathic medicine can be found at

About the JAOA’s Education Issue

The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association’s themed issue on osteopathic medical education focuses on initiatives within the osteopathic medical profession to improve various aspects of the osteopathic medical education continuum. The reports and articles in this issue document trends in osteopathic medical education, including data benchmarks of work being done to improve the medical education system in order to maintain and improve the quality, efficiency and access to health care and preventive services in the nation.


Media Contacts:   

Vicki Martinka
(312) 202-8159

Nicole Grady
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Twitter: @AOAforMedia


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