Types of Doctors: Other Doctors in Medicine and the Health Professions

In general, there are three categories of doctorate degrees that apply to the health professions: the professional doctorate, the clinical doctorate, and the research doctorate.

In the science-based professional doctorate, the M.D. and D.O are the most well known. Other educational routes lead to professional doctorates, but the philosophy, education, and training tend to focus on more specific aspects of medicine. Practitioners with these professional degrees require state licensure to practice and the scope of their practice is limited by law. These more specialized practitioners and the degrees awarded include: Dentistry (DDS or DMD), Podiatric Medicine (DPM), Chiropractic Medicine (DC), Veterinary Medicine (DVM or VMD), and Naturopathic Medicine (ND).

The research doctorate in any field, health or otherwise, is considered to be the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). A lesser-known, non-research, educational doctorate is the Doctor of Education (DEd). PhDs are trained primarily to be researchers in a particular field and they, along with DEds, are commonly employed as "specialized field experts" in colleges and universities. PhDs in science are also employed in medical schools and professional health preparation programs. Here PhDs not only teach the basic biomedical sciences didactic courses during the first two years of medical school and most other professional four year programs, but are also expected to carry out scientific or biomedical research in their areas of expertise. The last two years of professional education emphasizes clinical preparation and training by degreed professionals and residents in the post graduate programs.

Many health programs are now beginning to award the so-called practicing or "clinical doctorate" degree. Examples include: PharmD (Doctor of Pharmacy), ND (Nursing Doctorate), DPT (Doctor of Physical Therapy), and PsyD (Doctor of Psychology). In several disciplines, licensing for practitioners may require the doctorate for new practitioners with "transitional degrees" requiring additional coursework for those previously-licensed professionals with a lesser degree. Since those earning clinical doctorates learn much less about conducting research or advising students who seek research opportunities, a major objection cited is that clinical doctorates threaten the quality and quantity of research. There is little evidence to date that the clinical doctorate has increased the status, compensation, or reimbursement for the kinds of services provided. The major factor affecting compensation remains the shortage of practitioners and not their educational level.

Again, it is important for students interested in the health professions to understand the preparation and admission practices for the health profession in which they intend to enter. The selection of an academic major and minor, along with the choice of elective coursework are all important. Not to be ignored, however, are the timely preparation process for admission, personal development, and the specific activities suggested by your health profession advisor that prepare you to become a competitive applicant.

Communicating with recent graduates of the program you are preparing to enter can be useful in selecting the coursework and activities to prepare for admission. Each academic major commonly chosen by students planning careers in medical fields offers advantages. For instance, some majors tend to help you better prepare for admission examinations while other majors cultivate the development of important professional attributes. Still other majors help make the first two years of the professional program easier to handle after you have been admitted.

To explore the advantages and opportunities of a major in cell and molecular biology in preparing for a medical career, please visit this link. Check out the extensive list of advisement guides for premedical students on the Department of Biomedical Sciences website. Also, check student testimonials from former CMB majors who have completed medical school or are completing their medical education in both allopathic and osteopathic medical schools. Finally, see the NAAHP-sponsored survey reporting on undergraduate coursework recommendations from medical students themselves attending medical school programs in the midwest as they began their second year of medical school.

Remember, regardless of promotional pronouncements, there are several different avenues of approach to admission into medical school. Each major program of undergraduate study provides a different combination and degree of assets and advantages. The challenge for the student is to understand the advantages and assets of a particular program. For many students, the learning curve is achieved long after the choices have been made. The best advice is to do some research up front and then choose a program in which the student has an interest. Do well in the major program of your choice to fully take advantage of what that particular major program has to offer in preparing you for the next step in your career.

Primary Web Sites for Pre-medical Students


For More Information

Contact one of the following Pre-medical Advisors:

Dr. Colette Witkowski* 417-836-5603, Professional Bldg., Room 404

Dr. Scott Zimmerman* 417-836-6123, Professional Bldg., Room 353

Dr. Richard Garrad* 417-836-5372, Professional Bldg., Room 345

Dr. Amanda Brodeur* 417-836-5478, Professional Bldg., Room 352

Dr. Ben Timson 417-836-4145, Professional Bldg., Room 407

Dr. Lyon Hough 417-836-6485, Professional Bldg., Room 409

Dr. Jianjie Wang 417-836-6140, Professional Bldg., Room 339

Mr. Joseph Williams 417-836-6782, Professional Bldg., Room 347

* indicates current member of the Pre-medical Committee

Department of Biomedical Sciences
Missouri State University
901 South National Avenue
Springfield, Missouri 65897
(417) 836-5603