Medical School OMT: It’s More Than Just Cracking Joints

I am just going to warn you that this medical school OMT section is going to be a bit longer than most of my other articles about medical school courses.

This is an important section for potential medical students about what osteopathic medicine is like. My goal is to give you my honest viewpoint on it so far so you can make a sound judgment if you want to apply to osteopathic medical school or not. I also want it to be helpful for those going through the course.

With that being said, let’s begin.

What Is Medical School OMT?

Medical school OMT is a course that is unique to osteopathic medical schools.

The best way I can describe OMT, which is short for osteopathic manipulative treatment or osteopathic manipulative therapy, to someone without exposure to it is that it is a mixture of traditional western medicine and chiropractic medicine. The osteopathic treatment is largely targeting the musculoskeletal disorders (problems due to muscles or the bones). Although this year (second year of medical school), I have learned of OMT treatment for non-musculoskeletal disorders such as asthma and diarrhea.

Medical school OMT can be broken up into two parts: lecture and lab.

In OMT lecture, you will be learning about anatomy. Lots of anatomy. This makes sense. Since the osteopathic treatments focuses mainly on the musculoskeletal, it would be wise to learn about the muscles and the skeleton. There will be a lot of memorization. Not only will you have to know the muscles’ names, you will also have to know the insertions and origins, innervations, and actions. You will have to know the bones and the ligaments too.

medical school omt - foot massage or springing of the metatarsals

To everyone else, this is just a foot massage. But to osteopaths, this is NOT just a foot massage. It is springing of the metatarsals.

In lecture, you will also be introduced to the osteopathic philosophy and rules. For example, the first thing I learn about was thoracic dysfunction and treatment. But before I can go around palpating and diagnosing for any problems, I first had to learn about Freyette’s law. Knowing this law sets up the foundation for a correct thoracic (and lumbar) diagnosis.

In OMT class, you will also learn how to diagnose and treat any given dysfunction. Diagnosing and treating is best done by doing, not by reading, which is why lab is crucial. I would say that most of my OMT knowledge comes from doing.

Does It Work?

The most pertinent question regarding OMT for potential osteopathic students is:

Does it work?

Personally, I use osteopathic manipulative treatment for my poor back. I’m always hunched over my computer studying (at least for the second half of second year in preparation for my upcoming boards). Therefore, my back often hurts. From my experience, osteopathic treatment does work temporarily to relieve my pain.

So I can answer yes to the question, that at least some things in OMT do work.

Right now, I’m learning some funky things about cranial osteopathy. I’m not sure if that is legit or not though. Hopefully, I’ll know by the end of the second school year.

OMT in My School

Medical school OMT is the only class that lasts for two years, for a total for four semesters. I’m quite sure that it holds true for almost all osteopathic medical schools, since OMT is the main item which differentiates DO doctors from MD doctors.

As I mentioned before, there are two components to class: lecture and lab.

I’ve explained lecture in details already, so let’s move on to lab.

Lots of people have questions about what OMT lab will be like. One of the main questions is how much or how little clothes can you wear to lab? My school is not so stringent when it comes to clothing. Girls do not have to go in wearing only sports bras and guys do not have to go in shirtless. You can wear t-shirt and shorts. But no jeans! Basically, since medical school OMT lab will require a lot of touching and feeling, the clothing you wear should not prevent the person from diagnosing or treating you.

How to Succeed in Medical School OMT?

I did decently in this class. My grades have steady improved from first year to the first half of second year. I finished the first year with a high pass. In the first half of the second year I honored it.

Before I pat myself on the back for a job well done, let me first explain a bit about the grading.

The inevitable downer about OMT grading is that half of the grades are subjective. You will get many multiple-choice exams for lectures. In those exams, you know exactly what you got right and what you got wrong. However, the exams for lab are not multiple-choice. Rather, you must demonstrate that you can diagnose and treat the patient. You will work on a person (another student or paid actor) while someone observes and grades you. If you get unlucky, even if you know your stuff, you could receive a less-then-average grade. If you get lucky, you could receive a higher-than-average grade. I felt I got unlucky for all of my first year. Although I was the one who taught my friends, they are the ones to get the 90s and 100s while I got the 80s.

Anyways, there are no hard feelings. I just want you to be aware of that in advance, so don’t kick yourself if you knew your stuff but got a less-than-stellar grade.

Now back to succeeding in medical school OMT.

I actually attended all the lectures; I don’t think I missed a single class. There were two reasons for doing so:

  1. Lab, which is mandatory, is right after lecture. So I might as well just go to lecture since I have to go to lab anyways.
  2. OMT is a very foreign concept to me so I understand it better by going to class than just by reading the slides.

What really helped me retain the information is taking notes. I would take notes on paper on whatever I was learning in lab. Then when I got back home, I would type up my own notes into the computer, to summarize the lecture and lab. And before each exam, I would just study from my notes.

For this class though, going to lecture and studying from my notes sufficed for the first year in terms of multiple-choice exams. But in the second year, there was a lot more focus on memorizing the anatomy. Thieme is crucial if you want to honor the lecture portion of the course.

I will explain about the books I have used further below.

The practical exams is basically based on luck. If you have an easy grader, you will get a higher grade If you get a hard grader, you will get a lower grade.

Either way, my advice for practicals is to practice. The more you practice, the more confident you will be when you diagnose and treat. And lots of the grades depend on how confident you are. I strongly believe there is a correlation between a high grade and high confidence and vice versa.

Study Tips

  • go to class
  • take notes in lab
  • condense your notes after class and lab
  • practice the diagnosis and treatments before each exam

Additional Medical School OMT Resources

This course is the only course in which I am using books (not just one book, but multiple books) to help me understand the topics. I am using a total of three books for this course, two which I only started using in the second year.


Thieme Atlas of Anatomy – General Anatomy and Musculoskeletal System

This is the book to go to if you want to learn about your muscles and bones. The main thing I use the book for is to learn about (when I say learn about, I actually mean memorize) the insertions, origins, innervations and actions of the muscles. If you want to honor the course, you must know your anatomy.

I really like how the book focuses on each muscle. So for instance, if you want to know about the deltoids, you can. They draw the muscle by itself onto the skeleton, so you can see how it attaches to the bones. They then have a picture of it with all the other muscles (similar to Netter’s photos) so you can see how the muscle fits into the other shoulder muscles.

In the first year of medical school, I did not use this book at all and regretted that I bought it. But in the second year, I changed my mind when the exams started to focus heavily on anatomy. I think part of the reason I honored the first half of second year is because of this book.

The Pocket Manual of OMT

This book is a quick reference for OMT techniques. The book fits into the white coat’s pockets, so it is easy to store. I refer to the book often, especially before my practical examinations. This book is actually required for my class and I can see why. Lots of lab handouts reference to this book. There are pictures in the Pocket Manual and the instructions are easy to follow.

Even if your class does not require you to get an OMT technique manual, I would highly recommend you get one, especially this one.

OMT Review by Robert G. Savarese, DO

Get this book now! If you are an osteopathic student, you need this book. Not only will it help you prepare for class, it will help you prepare for the COMLEX. The explanations of OMT concepts are clear and succinct. It also comes with lots of practice questions. Most people only need one week of really studying this book to do well enough on the OMT portion of the COMLEX.

A lot of what I said about the books can be found in the medical school books section. Refer to the section for more details about each book and why I highly recommend them for medical school OMT.

Hey, you! Do you want to know how an accountant, without a science background, made it through medical school without any difficulty? Do you want to know how I memorized a sea of information without cracking my skull in half and dumping the books into my brain? No, I did not slave away all night studying in the library either. If you want to know my complete study system, check out The Secret of Studying.

This article is part of the How to Survive Medical School series. Click on the link if you want more tips and hints about surviving academic hell.

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