Applying - Advice for Osteopaths

Updated September 2016

Navigating the residency application process is difficult for all students.  If you are an osteopathic student the process is more complex, as you have the option of applying to both "MD" and "DO" Emergency Medicine residencies.  

Why do students apply to allopathic (MD) programs?

The reasons often given by residents and rotating students who went to osteopathic schools: 
          The opportunity to train in larger medical centers
          Option for three year training programs
          Academic affiliations of the training programs
          Larger sized programs and the stability that comes with them
          Greater perceived opportunities for fellowship and jobs
          More programs to choose from 

What are the obstacles in applying?

The biggest obstacle to an osteopathic student’s application to allopathic EM is perceived competitiveness. 

EM is very competitive with more applicants than available spots.  Traditional 4th year US seniors get most of the spots, with approximately 10% taken by 4th year DO students.  

Not surprisingly, to be successful in matching you need stand out as a candidate.  

The issue of bias against DO students in the selection process is very real.  Only 68% of allopathic programs will interview and rank DO students, therefore there are less programs available to apply to.  One way to maximize your application, is to look at the composition of a residency's current classes.  If they have no DO's, you are unlikely to be the first. If they have DO's, especially from your school, they will seriously consider your application.  

Be warned that some programs who give consideration to both types of students, will rank academically equal MD's above DO's.  

So how do you match?

You need to level the playing field as much as possible. The easiest way to do this is to make yourself as competitive as possible. You can not change your school, but you can change how you are viewed. Your goal is to allow the programs to compare you apples to apples with the allopathic students.

First: you MUST take the USMLE. This allows your knowledge to be compared directly to your MD peers.  USMLE Step 1 scores >230 will help you get interviews. Scores <210 will make it more difficult for you to get interviews.

Many allopathic residency directors, even those open to taking DO's, will be unwilling to translate a COMLEX score to an equivalent USMLE score.  Or they will look for a grossly higher COMPLEX score than the equivalent USMLE score.  

Second: you need to rotate in two or more allopathic EM residencies during your fourth year and get SLOEs from each. This again puts you head to head with the MD students in a single rotation. This also shows your performance in an academic setting similar to the residencies you will be applying for. Ideally you will want two clerkships between May and September.  

While community EM months can be great learning experiences they will not assist your application to an allopathic EM residency. If your school requires them you will have to do extra clerkships in EM, and in some instances even forgo credit to gain the opportunity to advance your application.

Lastly: the letters that carry the most weight are going to come from residency program administrators.  You will want two SLOEs from academic residencies, preferably group SLOEs written by the educational teams where you rotate. Frequently these types of letters are missing from the osteopathic students application making it difficult to accurately compare them to the rest of the applicant pool.  Having these letters sets you ahead of much of your competition.

Show you know the hurdles you face and are willing to overcome them:

1.       Take the USMLE and score >230
2.       Rotate at 2 allopathic EM residencies, that take DO's
3.       Get group SLOE's from the Clerkship Director and Program Director
4.       Be ready to apply broadly if your application is not above average

More information targeted at "non-LCME applicants":


  1. Hello,

    I'm an osteopathic student. I have a great step 1 score (255+), and anticipate a step 2 score that will be pretty good as well (I'm a good test taker). My concern is that by september 15th I will have only completed 1 Allopathic EM audition rotation. I'll be about midway through my 2nd block of Allopathic EM which ends about 10 days after September 15th. My question is really two questions I guess.

    1. Is it worth waiting until the end of the second EM block for a SLOE from that institution, or is it better to submit everything on time on Sept 15th? Also if I do submit on the earliest date possible, is it at all beneficial to submit subsequent letters/SLOEs later?

    2. My second Question is in regards to #3 on your above list. Is it acceptable to get two SLOEs from one institution and have it count as 2 letters?

    Hope this makes sense! Thanks a lot for your blog, it is very informative and helpful.

    1. Jon,
      You find yourself if a common situation where a 2nd rotation will delay your application. With a rotation ending in late september you will still have a letter from that rotation arriving to ERAS by early October. That is early enough to hold a spot for that letter. You should still try to have everything you control submitted between Sept 15 and October 1st. Have a back-up letter you can designate in place of that 2nd SLOE just in case it gets delayed past the middle of October.

      You can get 2 SLOE's from one program. That is better than having non-EM letters. However, that does not get you the benefit of 2 SLOE's from different programs. The advantage of having 2 SLOE's is that the information will seem more reliable, assuming they say similar things. When programs require multiple SLOE's what they are really requiring is multiple rotations. Few programs will not look at a candidate with only one EM rotation, but there are some.