A PhD is a Doctor of Philosophy, the highest degree you can earn in any academic subject. Doctorate degrees are offered in many subject areas including the arts, sciences, humanities, technology, education and business. An M.D. is a Doctor of Medicine degree for students who want to become a general medical practitioner or a specialist. Both degrees require significant work and a long educational process. Medical doctors must also meet state licensing requirements. The question of a PhD vs an M.D. depends on your personal goals and interests.

Medical School Training

Becoming a medical doctor (M.D.) requires approximately 11-17 years of education and training beyond high school. Aspiring medical students start by earning a four-year bachelor’s degree and then move on to medical school. Medical schools are also four years in length and require both lecture courses and clinical training. Students in these programs spend their first two years doing mostly lecture and lab work in advanced science subjects. In years three and four, medical students continue with some lecture courses, but spend much of their time performing clinical rotations, working in a hospital setting in various medical specialties. After completing medical school, students continue their training in an internship and residency, a three- to seven-year on-the-job training program where the doctor is able to practice medicine under the supervision of more senior doctors.

Does a PhD Make You a Doctor?

Scholars who fulfill the requirements of a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) or a Doctor of Education (Ed.D) earn the title of doctor, which is used in writing, teaching and administration. After finishing a bachelor’s degree, students may pursue one of two educational paths toward the PhD. Some doctoral programs admit students with just a bachelor’s degree, while others require a master’s degree first. In both situations, students can usually expect their post-bachelor’s degree education to take a minimum of five years. Doctoral programs include a combination of lecture-based courses and research and many programs require that their students work as teaching assistants, teaching undergraduate courses. Nearly all PhD students are required to complete a dissertation, a paper detailing the extensive research they’ve done in their field, which they must defend to a committee of experts. The length of time to complete a dissertation varies widely depending on the student's program, degree of motivation, and whether the student is enrolled full-time. Online PhD programs are available that can be completed in three years, including writing and defending a dissertation.

What is an M.D. Specialization?

Medical doctors can be generalists or specialists. Specializations and residencies are available in many areas such as family medicine, pediatrics, psychiatry and internal medicine. Completing medical school clinical rotations help students narrow and solidify their career interests. Earning potential and required length of training varies by specialization. For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that as of May 2017 general practitioners earned an average annual wage of $208,560 compared to surgeons who earned $251,890 and anesthesiologists who made $265,990.

Interesting Career Opportunities

People who earn M.D.s usually hold jobs practicing medicine. They may have their own practices or work for larger healthcare organizations, clinics and hospitals. Most M.D.s are involved in direct patient care. Depending on their specialty, they may diagnose and treat illnesses and injuries, perform surgeries and prescribe medication. People who earn M.D.s and PhD's may work in teaching, research and administration. Some PhD's are hired to work as policy analysts in government or private business consultants, depending on their field of expertise. PhD professionals can specialize in almost any subject area, such as languages, literature, music, management or psychology. Many PhD's seek jobs in higher education. College professors at comprehensive universities typically hold a PhD and earn a median wage of $76,000, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in May 2017.

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