Why we need to end stigmas in medicine

Obtaining a medical degree and becoming an M.D. is not the only way to achieve the goals I have in life. Becoming a D.O. can give me the same means to provide care for those who are suffering and in dire need of help. (Dr.Farouk/Wikimedia Creative Commons)

With the sun beating down and soft breezes tickling our skin, spring has finally arrived in full blossom at Storrs. While seniors, like myself, try to enjoy the beauty of our final days here, inevitable questions from our younger friends always seem to burst the bubble of temporary happiness that we’re in. Questions like, “What are your plans after graduation?” instantly drain my face of any color.

Speaking with a fellow soon-to-be-graduate yesterday, I made some realizations about the life I want to pursue. As an aspiring doctor, medical school always seemed to be the name of the game. Four years of undergraduate education, and then four years of medical school. It wasn’t until last year when I began studying for my MCAT that I even gave D.O schools a serious thought, which are schools for Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine.

Until the beginning of my junior year, I considered D.O. school to be a step down from M.D. school. Along with the vast majority of medical school applicants, M.D. is the title to aspire for, and so M.D. was the only practical goal. D.O. schools were a second resort if scores weren’t high enough or if an application simply wasn’t strong enough.

Until this year, I didn’t understand how flawed this logic was. When I was speaking to my friend we both realized that our ambitions are not to become doctors. Our ambitions in life do not ride upon receiving the title of M.D. Becoming an M.D. (or a D.O., for that matter) is a means to an end; in order to achieve my life’s ambitions, receiving one of these titles is necessary.

I’ve dreamed since I was in the seventh grade of becoming an ophthalmologist so that I can travel to impoverished nations and perform free cataract surgeries for those that cannot afford them. Providing an innocent, deserving person a chance to see the world around them and their loved ones again, after being blinded by an easily curable condition is perhaps the most rewarding thing I could spend my life doing.

Obtaining a medical degree and becoming an M.D. is not the only way to achieve the goals I have in life. Becoming a D.O. can give me the same means to provide care for those who are suffering and in dire need of help. And if D.O. school doesn’t work out, there are many other pathways that can lead me to my ultimate destination. While M.D. might be the most straightforward route, other options are no less valuable, and shouldn’t be associated with the stigmas many aspiring physicians have.

On top of all of this, it turns out obtaining a D.O. might actually be more favorable to the type of medicine I want to practice. Doctors of osteopathic medicine take a more holistic approach to medicine; they combine a targeted medical approach with an emphasis on lifestyle choices that affect a patient’s health.

As a student that studied both Political Science and Biology in my four years at UConn, I have been enlightened time and time again to the intricate nature of our lifestyles and our health. Factors such as income inequality or unequal access to housing can lead to differential treatment of diseases, and the onset of newfound conditions. As a student that spent all of my time learning about the ways that unforeseen factors can interact with the world of medicine, obtaining a D.O degree might actually be a better fit.

It’s unfortunate that aspiring to become a D.O. is seen as settling for something “lower”. Students need to be confident in that the degrees we obtain after graduation are not what define us; it is the work that we accomplish with our degrees that will show the world who we are. Professional schools and professional degrees are simply a means by which we can accomplish our goals, and the stigmas surrounding paths that are considered “less challenging” should be eliminated.


Gulrukh Haroon is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus. She can be reached by email at gulrukh.haroon@uconn.edu.