What does Unified GME mean for DO students?

By Ryan Nguyen

In a statement released in late February 2014, the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) and the American Council on Graduate Medical Education (AGCME) announced they have finally agreed to a single accreditation system for graduate medical education. The surprising news comes on the heels of previously failed negotiations in July 2013.

From the official press release:
“From July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2020, AOA-accredited training programs will transition to ACGME recognition and accreditation. There will continue to be osteopathic-focused training programs under the ACGME accreditation system. Two osteopathic review committees will be developed to evaluate and set standards for the osteopathic aspects of training programs seeking osteopathic recognition. DOs and MDs would have access to all training programs. There will be prerequisite competencies and a recommended program of training for MD graduates who apply for entry into osteopathic-focused programs. AOA and AACOM will become ACGME member organizations, and each will have representation on ACGME’s board of directors.”

What does this mean for current medical students, MD and DO alike?

The inevitability of a common match: Since all residency programs will fall under a single unification banner by 2020, a single match process is the next logical step. The current system, which forces DO students to choose between the AOA match in February and ACGME match in March, will be streamlined to allow medical students to apply to all US-based residencies at the same time. There is no exact date for the implementation of the common match, but discussions I’ve heard indicate the common match will begin closer to 2020.

MD students will be able to apply to DO residency programs: With all residency programs under the ACGME banner, current osteopathic residency programs (which will become “residencies with an osteopathic focus”) will open their doors to applications from allopathic medical students. Discussions are still underway on how MD students can supplement their current medical education with osteopathic principles to prepare for these residencies.

COMLEX and USMLE are to remain separate exams: In talks between the AOA and ACGME, maintenance of the COMLEX as a separate and independent licensing exam remained a non-negotiable item. While a growing number of allopathic-based residency programs are accepting COMLEX (77% according to a 2012 Program Director’s Survey), it’s still in the best interests of most osteopathic medical students to take both COMLEX Level 1 and USMLE Step 1 to keep their options open.

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