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A physician, also known by many names and specialties, is a highly trained healthcare provider licensed to practice medicine, prescribe medications, perform surgery, and provide medical care to patients. Physicians, typically referred to as doctors, have the authority to diagnose, prescribe, and provide comprehensive medical care and referrals to individuals suffering from injury or disease. 

There are three different types of degrees that a physician can have: Medical Doctor (MD), Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO), or Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DMP). These degrees are the primary pathways students take to become a physician. The main difference within each pathway lies in their approach to healthcare. The choice of degree and specialty can influence a physician’s approach to healthcare and the types of treatments they may offer.

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What are the differences between medical schools?
Differences in degrees
Degree Description Institutions
M.D. Degree (AAMC) Allopathic physicians/allopathic medicine 155 institutions across the US
D.O. Degree (AACOMAS) Osteopathic physicians/ osteopathic medicine 38 Institutions
D.P.M. Degree (AACPM) Podiatric physicians 11 Institutions

The curriculum for each type of program is very similar. However, D.O.s are usually trained in an additional technique called Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine. Historically, Osteopathic physicians have been trained using a holistic view of medicine and caring for the “whole patient.” There is also a strong emphasis on primary care, although D.O.s may specialize in any area of medicine.

Podiatric physicians specifically diagnose and treat disorders of the lower leg. They can specialize in areas such as sports medicine, dermatology, or surgery. Below is a compact description of each degree.

Allopathic Medicine (M.D.)

M.D. stands for Doctor of Medicine and is the most common and "traditional" degree among the three medical degrees. Roughly 90% of active physicians in the United States hold an M.D. degree. These doctors are trained in Allopathic Medicine, meaning they treat patients using modern means such as medicine, surgery, and other methods. These methods are considered mainstream in medicine due to how common these methods are used.

Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.)

D.O. stands for Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine and provides an alternative approach to medicine compared to M.D. D.O.s have the training and capacity to operate as an M.D., but these doctors get something extra. These doctors are trained in Osteopathic Medicine, meaning they treat patients using a holistic approach. Though D.O.s emphasize the body's ability to heal itself without intervention, drugs, and surgery can still be viable treatments that a D.O. uses.

Podiatry Medicine (D.P.M.)

D.P.M. stands for Doctor of Podiatric Medicine. The podiatric medical schools' curriculum closely resembles that of a general medical school. This specialized degree focuses on the lower extremities, particularly the feet and ankles. D.P.Ms work to diagnose and treat these extremities along with working as assistant surgeons to their fellow non-podiatric physicians. Currently, there are roughly 18,000 D.P.Ms that practice in the United States.

Most Popular Medical Specialties

Note: There are over 150 specialties for physicians. For an even more extensive list, click on the link provided: AAMC: Specialty Profiles

Internal and Family Medicine

Internal medicine or general internal medicine is the medical specialty dealing with the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of internal diseases. Doctors specializing in internal medicine are called internists.

Emergency Medicine

Emergency medicine is the medical specialty concerned with the care of illnesses or injuries requiring immediate medical attention. Emergency physicians specialize in providing care for unscheduled and undifferentiated patients of all ages.

General Surgery

General surgery is a surgical specialty that focuses on the alimentary canal and abdominal contents including the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, liver, pancreas, gallbladder, appendix and bile ducts, and often the thyroid gland.


Pediatrics is the branch of medicine that involves the medical care of infants, children, adolescents, and young adults. In the United Kingdom, pediatrics covers many of their youth until the age of 18.


Anesthesiology, anesthesiology, or anesthesia is the medical specialty concerned with the total perioperative care of patients before, during and after surgery. It encompasses anesthesia, intensive care medicine, critical emergency medicine, and pain medicine.


Orthopedic surgery or orthopedics, is the branch of surgery concerned with conditions involving the musculoskeletal system. Orthopedic surgeons use both surgical and nonsurgical means to treat musculoskeletal trauma, spine diseases, sports injuries, degenerative diseases, infections, tumors, and congenital disorders.


Dermatology is the branch of medicine dealing with the skin. It is a specialty with both medical and surgical aspects. A dermatologist is a specialist medical doctor who manages diseases related to skin, hair, nails, and some cosmetic problems.


Psychiatry is the medical specialty devoted to the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of mental conditions. These include various issues related to mood, behavior, cognition, and perceptions. Initial psychiatric assessment of a person typically begins with a case history and mental status examination.

Stuck on where to start your pre-med journey? Check out our Steps Towards Medical School page to get help!

Medical School Prerequisites

NOTE: Specific prerequisite courses can vary by school--always double-check the website of each medical school you are applying to for specific requirements. Please review the CSUSB Catalog as a guide to completing the CSUSB prerequisites.

Common Prerequisite Courses
Prerequisites CSUSB Courses


One year or two semesters of General Biology with lab.


BIOL 2010 and BIOL 2020


One year or two semesters of General Chemistry with lab.

One year or two semesters of Organic Chemistry with lab.


CHEM 2100 & 2100L and CHEM 2200 & 2200L

CHEM 2400 & 2400L and CHEM 2500 & 2500L OR CHEM 3400 & CHEM 3500


One year or two semesters of Calculus and/or Statistics.

Students must place/test into MATH 2210 (Calculus I) OR take MATH 1401 (Pre-calculus) before MATH 2210.


MATH 2210 (Calculus) and/or MATH 1201 (Statistics)

BIOL 5050 (Biostatistics)


One year or two semesters of Physics with lab.


PHYS 2000 & 2000L and PHYS 2010 & 2010L OR 

PHYS 2500 & 2500L and PHYS 2510 & 2510L

Recommended Coursework

Though recommended classes may not be required for specific medical schools, many of the topics show up on the MCAT. Taking these classes will not only make you a more competitive applicant but will give you a head up when it comes to studying for the MCAT.

Kaplan: What's Tested on the MCAT (2023)?

Recommended courses:

  • Biochemistry:
    • CHEM 2060 Survey of Organic and Biochemistry
      • OR
    • CHEM 4100 Biochemistry I

  • Microbiology:
    • BIOL 2200 Microbiology for Allied Health Majors
      • OR
    • BIOL 3200 Microbiology

  • Anatomy & Physiology:
    • BIOL 2230 Human Anatomy and Physiology I for Allied Health Majors &
    • BIOL 2240 Human Anatomy and Physiology II for Allied Health Majors
      • OR
    • BIOL 4630 Human Anatomy and Physiology I &
    • BIOL 4640 Human Anatomy and Physiology II

What is the MCAT?

The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is a standardized test that the majority of U.S. medical schools require for admission. The purpose of the test is to evaluate and apply the skills, knowledge, and critical thinking that potential applicants have. The MCAT is composed of 5 main sections that would be completed within 6 hours and 15 minutes.

These sections include: