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Is a PhD a Doctor? [The full guide]

The term “Dr” is very prestigious and projects expertise and respect in those who use it. There is a long and complicated history with the doctor title and who should (and shouldn’t) use it. Medical doctors, lecturers, and other medical professionals use it, but where did it come from and is a PhD a doctor?

Yes, a person with a PhD is a Doctor and use the “Dr” title before their name. This is not to be confused with a medical doctor. There is a complex history with this term but is currently accepted for people who hold a PhD as well as a wide range of other professions.

I have a PhD in chemistry and I call myself Doctor Stapleton in professional settings and when I want to let certain entities know that I have been awarded a PhD. In my experience, other PhD holders mainly use their titles in a similar way.

This article will cover everything you need to know about the Dr title and who can and cannot use it.

There have been people who have argued that the term doctor should be reserved for people who have studied and are practising medicine so that there is little confusion about the people suitably qualified to make health care decisions for you.

However, as you will see through this article the doctor title has a very long history that has nothing to do with the medical field at all.

Where the term Doctor comes from

For those that love a little bit of word history:

is a PhD a doctor

The word doctor comes from the Latin verb ”docere” which means to teach or is used to refer to a scholar.

In history the doctor title was invented to signify that a person was an imminent scholar. The doctorates date as far back as the 1300s and those who were able to get the doctor title in front of their name were rewarded with a lot of respect and prestige.

These people were often the lecturers of their day and would therefore teach many students in their areas of expertise.

Therefore, I think it is reasonable to conclude that the original intended use of doctor was for academics and scholars.

As time went on, the doctor title was awarded to other professions that wanted to elicit the same level of respect and prestige.

Health professionals receive an undergraduate degree in medicine and can call themselves doctor. However, these are professional degrees (undergraduate qualifications) and not really considered doctorates in the true sense of the word – it is more of an honorary title.

I don’t think that anyone with a PhD really cares about who is using it and accept that the majority of the public think that anyone with a doctor title has a medical degree.

I know that I was very excited to receive my doctor title but the excitement soon wears off when you realise that it doesn’t really matter in everyday life – but it still makes you and your parents proud.

These days, the doctor title is used by a variety of non-academic professions and it can get a little bit confusing.

So let’s have a look at who can actually use the doctor title and where it came from.

Who can use “doctor”

Even though the original use of the doctor title was for imminent scholars, nowadays there are several different professional qualifications that can use the doctor title.

It’s no surprise that more professional qualifications want to use the doctor title as it indicates many years of study, status and makes parents very proud.

A 2016 peer-reviewed publication submitted to the Canadian Medical Association Journal asks who is entitled to the title of Doctor?

Exactly who can use this term is starting to get a little bit confusing for the public.

There are many honorific doctor titles, including those found in the table below.

The use of the doctor term for many healthcare-related qualifications can cause a fair bit of confusion about what qualification the person has achieved.

That is why the title of a person is only the second most important thing to look at.

If in doubt, have a look at the letters after their name to really understand what the doctor title is referring to.

There are some interesting deviations in the doctor title and interestingly, in the UK, surgeons do not refer to themselves as doctor but rather use the term Mr/Miss/Mrs/Ms etc. I had a family friend who was a brain surgeon who was a medical doctor and, after becoming a surgeon, changed back to Mr – a prestigious indicator in the medical field.

It’s strange to me how each field has its own customs to denote prestige.

There are arguments that in a professional and medical setting that the term doctor should be reserved for those who are medical doctors.

This can be difficult as many other healthcare professionals have also received doctorates in their specialisation and would want recognition for that effort and achievement.

In a 2011 article in the New York Times , physicians said that they were worried about losing control over the title of doctor because it could lead to a loss of control over the perception of the medical profession itself.

Anything that makes it more difficult for patients to make an informed decision about their healthcare could be very dangerous.

However, the fact that they are using this doctor title at all is a deviation from its original intention. Here is why the doctor title really is only meant for holders of a Doctor of Philosophy.

PhDs – the original doctors(?)

PhD stands for Doctor of Philosophy and, arguably, accounts for the only true use of the doctor title.

Being awarded a PhD means that you have completed postgraduate original and/or applied research that adds a significant contribution to the knowledge in a particular field.

It could be a PhD gained at a university or a professional doctorate but should signify that the owner of the title has completed the highest qualification obtainable in their field.

I talk about this in my short YouTube video:

You don’t necessarily have to use your doctor title after you have your PhD.

I know that there are many people who only use their Dr title in professional settings or as a way to stand out in other settings.

I only use my PhD title when I am in a setting where it is traditionally used. For example, I use my doctor title if I am giving a talk at a university or I am applying for funding within my field of expertise.

Some PhD holders find it a little bit awkward using their Dr title in everyday life whilst others use it on everything from rental applications to restaurant bookings.

How people use their Dr title once they have one is completely up to personal and individual choice. Initially, I was very excited to use my doctor title in as many situations as possible but quickly became wary of using it when it wasn’t required.

However, one of my guilty pleasures is seeing my doctor title on a plane ticket – I’m not quite sure why that is!

What you should call a PhD holder/your lecturers

One of the most common questions that I get asked when I am lecturing at a university is what students should call their lecturers.

Students can get confused with all of the formalities – especially if they have never been in a university before.

Professors, associate professors, doctors, lecturers, researchers – what does it all mean and how should you refer to academics?

Ultimately, it depends on the person.

Some PhD holders who lecture in a university want to be called by their official title and surname during every interaction.

Other lecturers and PhD holders are happy with students calling them by their first name. I certainly didn’t mind people calling me Andy during my workshops or lectures.

Also, some cultures are much more formal than others and wish to show respect by always using the official title of an academic.

Feel free to use whichever mode of interaction you wish – but, as a general rule, always err on the side of caution and use the more formal term for safety. Quite often, I have seen academics prompt students to use their first name as they also feel a little bit awkward being called their professional titles.

Doctor vs professor

When you graduate from a PhD you are entitled to call yourself by the doctor title.

All PhD holders are called Doctor in their professional setting. This can be on business cards, newsletters, websites, and other official documentation.

Universities in some countries also have a graduated career progression title system which denotes the expertise and seniority of the academic.

For example, in Australia the academic system is graduated like this:

  • Senior lecturer
  • Associate Professor

Therefore, in Australia it is not always appropriate to call someone in a university professor. Even if they are teaching your subject.

Professor is reserved for those who have achieved demonstrated expertise and outcomes in a variety of academic areas such as administration, teaching, research, and community outreach.

In other countries, however, you are automatically deemed a professor if you are teaching at a university. For example, in America your students will refer to you as a professor no matter your seniority in your university.

One of the first things you should do if you want to talk to your lecturer in a university setting is ask what their preference would be to be called.

Ask your lecturer about their preference

Whenever I gave a lecture, I would always start by saying that people can call me by my name (Andy), or they can choose to use Dr Stapleton if they feel that is more appropriate.

In my experience, most academics will not mind if you call them by their first name and, in countries like Australia, it seems to be the most common way for students to interact with their teachers.

It is not uncommon for the opposite to be true – and, like I have mentioned above, always start with the formal interactions. It is likely that you will be invited to call the PhD holder by their first name.

Outside of a formal setting most PhD holders really don’t mind how you talk to them.

The things a PhD student needs to do to become a doctor

The reason a PhD can call themselves doctor is because they have been awarded the highest qualification possible in their field.

A PhD requires you to perform research and produce a thesis or dissertation. The new information must contribute significantly to the field and report novel and new findings.

The PhD thesis is examined by other experts in the field (known as peers) and these other experts are responsible for telling the university whether or not you have satisfied the criteria to become a PhD.

There are other, more modern, ways of reporting your findings including peer-reviewed journals and professional doctoral reports.

Either way, admission to a PhD requires many years of hard work and dedication to answering a unique and unanswered question in your field.

I think that this satisfies the original use of the term doctor and is a great accomplishment for anyone.

It’s hard work but with the right guidance and dedication it is achievable by almost anyone.

Wrapping up

This article has covered everything you need to know about whether a PhD is a doctor.

The original term was introduced in the 1300s to denote an imminent scholar. This scholar would teach and pass on information to their students.

In modern times, the term doctor has been used as an honorary title for other professional careers in recognition of the hard work that they have put in to achieve their position.

However, there are fears that the doctor title is slowly becoming used for too many health professional areas leading to confusion around who is a medical doctor and who has other health-related qualifications such as dentistry, naturopathy, and others.

Nonetheless, people without an understanding of the convention can still get confused between medical doctors and holders of a higher degree PhD.

is phd always a doctor

Dr Andrew Stapleton has a Masters and PhD in Chemistry from the UK and Australia. He has many years of research experience and has worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow and Associate at a number of Universities. Although having secured funding for his own research, he left academia to help others with his YouTube channel all about the inner workings of academia and how to make it work for you.

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is phd always a doctor

Is a PhD a Doctor? Demystifying Academic Titles

As you’ve thought about going back to school to earn a PhD degree, you might have wondered, “Is a PhD a doctor?”

Is a PhD a Doctor? Demystifying Academic Titles

It’s worth exploring the answer to this question, because a PhD is a doctor, but not in the way some might think.

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As you learn more about what it means to hold a PhD, you’ll also discover facts about what this degree entails and where it may take you in life. In the process, you can find out whether getting a PhD is the right choice for you!

Is a PhD a Doctor?

scientific researchers with PhD in Biochemistry

Yes, a PhD is a doctor. That’s because this degree is also called a Doctor of Philosophy. Having a PhD demonstrates that you are an expert who can contribute new research to your field.

Despite the “doctor” title, having a PhD doesn’t mean that you can practice medicine. It’s entirely different from being a medical doctor (MD). To understand what a PhD is, it helps to know what’s involved.

To earn a PhD, you’ll take a series of courses. You’ll also complete a huge research and writing project called a dissertation. This project will focus on a specific niche within your subject area. There may be comprehensive examinations involved as well.

Examples of PhD degrees include:

  • PhD in Biochemistry
  • PhD in Computer Science
  • PhD in Chemical Engineering
  • PhD in Economics
  • PhD in History
  • PhD in Management

In a PhD program, you’ll explore the theoretical side of your field. You might produce new research that can contribute to people’s understanding of your subject area and can help guide how practitioners carry out their work.

Generally, someone who earns a PhD doesn’t intend to be a practitioner. For example, a person getting a PhD in Management may not plan to become a business manager. Rather, that student wants to explore management theories that can improve organizational and business practices. This sets PhD degrees apart from another type of doctoral degree—the applied or professional doctorate.

People who earn professional doctorates want an expert-level education that they can apply to the work that they do in their field. For example, for a person who plans to be a business manager, a Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) could be fitting.

A person with a PhD, on the other hand, often intends to become a scientific researcher or a professor. It’s a degree focused on academia. Regardless of the distinctions between these degrees, people with PhDs, applied doctorates, and MD degrees can all be called “doctor” in most contexts.

What Is a PhD?

student pursuing a PhD degree

A Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) is an advanced degree that involves expert-level research and learning. In most fields, a PhD represents the highest level of learning available, so it’s often known as a terminal degree. This type of doctoral degree is research oriented.

In addition to taking classes, students undertake a major research project that contributes new ideas or theories to their field. This project involves writing a sizable paper known as a dissertation. Getting a PhD sets many students on the path toward a career in academia as an educator or a researcher.

Do You Need a PhD to Be a Professor?

College professor discussing with students

The requirements for becoming a professor can vary greatly from one college to another, but a PhD is not always necessary. It can certainly help, though, especially if you’re seeking a full-time tenured position at a major university. Many schools accept other terminal degrees, such as professional doctorates, as well.

Do professors need a PhD ? In some cases, a doctoral degree may not be essential. A master’s degree and professional experience may suffice for technical instructors, such as those in allied health fields. Also, some schools require only a master’s degree for teaching lower-level courses. Community colleges are a prime example.

What’s the Difference Between an MD vs. PhD Degree?

Although you can call someone with a PhD “doctor,” it’s not the same as being a healthcare provider. It’s essential to understand this distinction when asking, “Are PhD doctors?”

So, if you have a PhD are you a doctor? Yes, that will be your title, but it won’t qualify you to practice medicine.

What’s the Difference Between a Professional Doctorate vs. PhD?

Many fields include two options for terminal degrees: professional doctorate degrees and PhDs. Your goals can help you determine which is best for you.

When considering the differences between a PhD vs. doctorate degree, neither of these degrees is “higher” than the other in terms of education level.

Getting Your PhD Degree Online

student getting PhD Degree online

Now that you have an answer to the question “Does a PhD make you a doctor?” you may be ready to enroll in a PhD program and earn your doctoral degree. A number of universities now offer one year online doctoral programs .

In addition to granting you the title of “doctor,” this type of degree program can also benefit your career and provide personal fulfillment. Perhaps you’ll become a researcher, a professor, or a leader in your industry. You could also have the pride and satisfaction of knowing you’ve accomplished a huge undertaking.

You can earn your PhD through online study with an accredited university. You can start exploring top schools for online PhD programs today.

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Should All Ph.D.'s Be Called 'Doctor'? Female Academics Say Yes

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is phd always a doctor

On the first day of class, Debbie Gale Mitchell, a chemistry professor at the University of Denver, introduced herself to her students, telling them about her Ph.D. and her research. She told her students they could call her either “Dr. Mitchell” or “Debbie.” A male colleague had told her that he went by his first name and that students were friendlier as a result, so Mitchell decided to try it. Many students chose to call her “Debbie.”

Then one day a student asked if she thought she’d ever get a Ph.D.

“I discovered that for me, the use of my title is VITAL to remind students that I am qualified to be their professor,” Mitchell wrote on Twitter.

Mitchell’s story was just one among hundreds shared last summer on social media calling attention to the way gender affects how professionals are addressed, especially those who hold a doctorate.

The discussion comes at a time when research studies into gender bias are increasingly confirming that how a person is addressed is linked to perceptions of their status.

The Twitter conversation branched from multiple roots. On June 7, Eric Kelderman, reporter for the Chronicle of Higher Education, sent out a critical tweet of a female academic who responded to his media inquiry by suggesting that he should have used “Professor” or “Doctor” (the tweet has since been deleted). The next day, a doctor from the U.K., David Naumann, criticized doctors, medical or otherwise, who use their title in a nonprofessional setting. And a few days later the Globe and Mail, a Canadian newspaper, announced revised style guidelines wherein only medical doctors would be referred to using “Dr.”, a convention that is already used most of the time by the Associated Press and news outlets that follow AP Style  (including KQED). What followed was an explosion of opinions and experiences revolving around titles, expertise, and gender and racial bias.

Many Ph.D. holders are fine with reserving the title for medical doctors in common parlance, viewing insistence on the title as arrogant and elitist, and do not use their titles even in a scholarly setting. But for women and people of color, an academic title can be a tool to remind others of their expertise in a world that often undermines it.

Some Ph.D. holders who insist on titles say that they actually prefer their first names. But given the discrepancy in usage, some women feel they must use and defend their titles, especially where the alternative is a gendered title like “Ms.”, “Mrs.”, or “Miss”. Fern Riddell, a Ph.D.-holding historian, wrote:

My title is Dr Fern Riddell, not Ms or Miss Riddell. I have it because I am an expert, and my life and career consist of being that expert in as many different ways as possible. I worked hard to earned my authority, and I will not give it up to anyone. — Dr Fern Riddell (@FernRiddell) June 13, 2018

Following backlash to the tweet, which described her as “arrogant” and “immodest,” Riddell coined the hashtag #ImmodestWomen, encouraging hundreds of women to change their Twitter handles to include “Dr.” or share experiences of bias. Riddell later wrote about the rationale behind the hashtag, saying that “we define women by their ability to be well behaved.” #ImmodestWomen was “retaliation.”

The tweets show “Dr.” is preferred by many women because it is both unrelated to marital status and gender-neutral, unlike “Mrs.”, “Miss”, or “Ms”. Several tweets described situations where a woman’s husband or colleague was referred to as “Dr.” (whether or not he actually had a doctorate) while she got “Mrs.” or a first name.

My pastor has her PhD. She was interviewed by a local newspaper along with another male member of clergy, NOT a PhD.. HE was referred to as “Reverend Smith”, SHE was called “Paula”. Seriously. — Head To Toe Organizers (@HTTOrganizers) June 11, 2018

In other anecdotes, female doctors (M.D. and Ph.D. alike) were met with utter confusion when they answered the phone to a caller looking for “Dr.”, or presented an airline ticket bearing the title. Even in 2018, with women making up 34 percent of active physicians and more than half of medical school matriculants and doctorate recipients , many people assume that “Dr.” refers to a man.

Bias in forms of address and use of titles is not limited to gender, many participants in the Twitter discussion pointed out. People of color with doctorates are also often not given the courtesy of their title, which echoes a long history of racially biased uses of titles. History professor Charles W. McKinney wrote:

Wanna know why my students will always call me “Dr. McKinney”? Because one day in 1980 I went to the store with my 75 yr old Grandmother Melida Thomas. Clerk greeted two 20 yr old, white women in front of us with “Mrs” and said “Well, hello Melida” to my Grandmother. That’s why. — Charles W. McKinney (@kmt188) June 10, 2018

The bias reflected in these stories is backed up by data. Last year, a study from the Mayo Clinic found that female doctors were introduced by their first names, rather than a professional title, much more often than male doctors. And on June 25, researchers from Cornell University published results showing that female professionals are half as likely as their male colleagues to be referred to by their last names, a practice that is associated in the study with lower status.

“The way that we speak about others influences and is influenced by the way that we think about them,” wrote Stav Atir and Melissa J. Ferguson, authors of the recent paper.

Atir and Ferguson described eight different studies, covering forms of address in professor evaluations, talk radio and under experimental conditions. Across the board, female professionals were less likely to be referred to solely by their last name. They even found that fictional researchers who were described with last name only were perceived as better known, more eminent, higher status, and more deserving of awards.

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The researchers proposed several explanations for their results. It may be more culturally common to refer to men by their last names because they are thought to be more permanent, since women may change their last names when they marry. Alternatively, it could be that speakers use first names to identify a subject’s gender, and this is more common for women in male-dominated professions, where male is the assumed default. This type of bias could even result from attempts to highlight women’s participation by identifying their gender using first names.

“The consequences may be ironic,” wrote Atir and Ferguson, “leading to lower judgments of eminence, status, and deservingness.”

As Mitchell, the chemistry professor from the University of Denver, and other academics related on Twitter, one way of fighting this type of bias is to insist upon the title “Dr.”

But other Ph.D. holders question whether insisting on titles is the best strategy. Meena Kandasamy, a poet and writer with a Ph.D. in sociolinguistics, rarely uses her title and did not change her Twitter handle. She questioned the practice of elevating those who earned doctorates over those who have not had the opportunity to do so:

For every one of us who has managed to float up and breathe from that cesspool with a doctorate degree above our heads–we must remember our sisters sent home, their dreams crushed, their futures messed up, academia behaving like one petty thug-gang to have the backs of a few men — meena kandasamy (@meenakandasamy) June 14, 2018

Critics argue that titles do not necessarily reflect how hard one has worked or even level of expertise, and that the most equal solution is fewer titles, not more. But supporters say that claiming the titles is the best choice under the present circumstances. Elissa Harbert, a musicologist, wrote:

I support #ImmodestWomen . As a PhD and professor, I currently use Dr. as my title professionally. My relationships with students improved when I switched to Dr., even though in a perfect world I’d use my first name. It’s not a perfect world. — Dr. Elissa Harbert (@KyrieElissa) June 14, 2018

In some instances, women are less likely to exhibit bias in form of address. The Mayo Clinic study found female medical doctors introduced both men and women with a title more than 95 percent of the time. Men introduced their female colleagues with a title 49 percent of time, compared with 72 percent of the time for a male colleague. In the Atir and Ferguson study, male speakers on talk radio referred to women by last name less than half as often as they did for men, while female speakers did not have such a strong contrast. In other research on gender bias in academia and medicine, women were just as likely to treat men and women differently. As research epidemiologist Chelsea Polis related, implicit bias can extend to usage of titles for speakers and writers of any gender:

I was once quoted in a story where all men w/PhDs were “Dr. X” & all women w/PhDs were untitled. Writer (a woman) was mortified when I pointed it out. Claiming our titles publicly raises consciousness than women can/do have these credentials. I want young girls/women to see that. — Chelsea Polis, PhD (@cbpolis) June 10, 2018

While the evidence points to persistent bias in professional forms of address, the solution is not so clear. Highlighting women with doctorates, medical or otherwise, may provide an important reminder that woman are now earning nearly half of medical and research-based doctoral degrees. But bias in use of doctoral titles is just one example of the larger issue of gender bias, as Atir and Ferguson’s study demonstrates.

“We find evidence of a gender bias in the way that we speak about professionals in a variety of domains,” wrote Atir and Ferguson. Addressing the problem may require attention to bias in all arenas, from the classroom to the boardroom.

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“M.D.” vs. “Ph.D.” vs. “Dr.”: Are They Synonyms?

Quick: when you hear the word doctor , what do you picture?

Most would probably describe someone in a white lab coat with a stethoscope hanging around their neck or someone in medical scrubs—someone you would seek out if you have a deep cut that needed stitches.

That word doctor , however, is a title assigned to many who don’t come close to that description, many of whom you wouldn’t want stitching up that cut. Take your English professor, for instance. No offense, Dr. Barrett. 

It can all be a bit confusing, which is why it’s important to know who and why someone might be called a doctor , as well as what all those initials and abbreviations after their name mean. Here we break it all down.

What does Dr. mean?

Let’s start with doctor or D r . for short. While the first definition of the word is “ a person licensed to practice medicine,” that doesn’t mean you want to take medical advice from anyone who calls themselves a doctor . There are many looser definitions of the word that follow and, frankly, make things a bit confusing.

For example, the third definition is older slang for a “cook, as at a camp or on a ship,” while the seventh entry is “an eminent scholar and teacher.” Bugs Bunny didn’t help matters either by plying anyone and everyone with his famous greeting,“What’s up, doc?” 

The term doctor can be traced back to the late 1200s, and it stems from a Latin word meaning “to teach.” It wasn’t used to describe a licensed medical practitioner until about 1400, and it wasn’t used as such with regularity until the late 1600s. It replaced the former word used for medical doctors— leech , which is now considered archaic. 

WATCH: When Did The Word "Doctor" Become Medical?

Physician vs. doctor : are these synonyms.

While the term physician is a synonym for doctor , it’s typically used to refer to those who practice general medicine rather than those who perform surgery, aka surgeons . 

A quack , on the other hand, is defined as “ a fraudulent or ignorant pretender to medical skill.”

What does M.D. mean?

Moving on to initials that carry more weight than a nod from Bugs, let’s look at M.D.s .

M.D. , which can be used with or without the periods ( M.D. or MD )  is the designation for a medical doctor. This is earned by attending medical school (typically a four-year program after completing at least one undergraduate degree, plus a residency program), and learning to diagnose patients’ symptoms and offer treatment. 

The initials M and D stem from the Latin title  Medicīnae Doctor. There are many different types of doctors, with different specialties, but if you have a physical ailment, visiting a doctor with the initials M.D. is a good place to start.

Specialty doctors may add even more initials to their title, such as DCN (doctor of clinical nutrition), DDS (doctor of dental surgery), or countless others they acquire with additional training. To make things even more confusing, some may add abbreviations from medical associations they belong to, such as FAAEM (Fellow of the American Academy of Emergency Medicine). 

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What does Ph.D. mean?

As for Ph.D. , this stands for “doctor of philosophy.” It stems from the Latin term Philosophiae Doctor.

You can get a Ph.D. in any number of subjects, from anthropology to mythological studies. It’s not an easy feat, however, as to earn one, you must do original research and write a dissertation . 

Ph.D. vs. M.D .: are these synonyms?

There are two big differences between Ph.D. s and M.D .s. When it comes to medicine, M.D.s can prescribe medications, and Ph.D.s can’t. And yes, it’s possible to be both an M.D. and a Ph.D. In fact, some med schools offer programs in which you can achieve both simultaneously. 

You can also get a professional doctorate degree in a number of fields. For example, you might receive a doctorate of education, an  Ed.D . 

So, in a nutshell, both M.D.s and Ph.Ds can be referred to as doctors . If you’re looking for someone to treat what ails you physically, then you want at least an M.D. following their name. If you want to dig deep into a subject and get advice from someone who has done their own research and who likely knows the latest and greatest developments in a particular area, then you’re probably looking for a Ph.D. And if someone has both, even better—depending on your needs, it may be just what the doctor ordered.

Want more synonyms? Get Thesaurus.com’s sizzling synonyms right in your inbox! 

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Who gets to be called ‘doctor’?

Go to med school, earn an m.d. and the “dr.” honorific gets tacked on to your last name. some women — and ph.d.s — say they get the courtesy title, and respect, less often..

is phd always a doctor

We call physicians "doctor." Should we do the same for people with PhDs? (Credit: Bigstock)

This story is from The Pulse , a weekly health and science podcast.

Subscribe on Apple Podcasts , Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.

Molecular biologist Adam Ruben has a Ph.D.

There was one time when he made a conscious choice to refer to himself as Dr. Ruben — when he emailed an airline to complain about a messed up flight.

“We had to spend a night in some city and I was trying to get a refund for our hotel bill, so I signed the email Dr. Ruben,” he said. “And I know that’s kind of an icky thing to do but I have heard that you get better service when you use the term doctor.”

It kind of worked: He got his refund — after three months.

“It’s not outright wrong and the world should forgive me,” he said.

Ruben has been thinking about the doctor honorific for a while. He polled his friends and acquaintances with Ph.D.s on Facebook and Twitter about whether or not they call themselves doctor.

Some said they’ve earned it. Others said it seems a little pretentious.

“A surprising number of people all had the same concern about using the term doctor: if they were going to be on an airplane when somebody needs a doctor,” Ruben said.

This sort of happened to Ruben several years ago, but when he was on the ground.

Besides being a biologist, he’s also a writer and comedian. He was at a Story Collider storytelling event, performing for an audience of mostly graduate students.

“And somebody actually had a medical emergency in the middle of the show. He fainted and needed an ambulance,” Ruben recalled.

As he described it at the time, someone asked if there was a doctor in the room and about 200 people with Ph.D.s kind of looked around at each other frantically.

Some EMTs helped the guy.   He was okay in the end and the show went on .

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After checking in on social media, Ruben wrote about his informal poll for the journal Science. He heard from female engineers with Ph.D.s who said they are under-represented in their field, and feel like they need to put doctor in front of their names to get the same respect that male engineers get.

Epidemiologist Beth Linas also earned a Ph.D., and she wants media outlets to refer to people with Ph.D.s as doctor, especially if we’re interviewing them about their area of expertise.

“Someone comes up [to me] on the street and says hello to me, they can address me as Beth, but if I’m being called upon for my background in infectious disease, epidemiology or digital health which is the other area that I study, I think I should be recognized as Dr. Beth Linas.”

Linas has been thinking about this issue and wrote a commentary about the congressional hearings with Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and research psychologist Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were in high school.

“There was a lot of chatter online and on Twitter about how in written media, she wasn’t being addressed as Doctor Ford, I started noticing it in other publications and other outlets,” said Linas.

Some NPR listeners complained about the “insidious bias” of the radio network calling Kavanaugh “Judge Kavanaugh” but not calling Ford “Dr. Ford.”

The NPR ombudsman explained that like many media outlets, NPR follows the Associated Press stylebook, which says if someone practices medicine, NPR calls them doctor. If it’s someone with a Ph.D., it’s up to the individual media outlet.

On the radio, we don’t have a lot of time, and every word counts. Saying someone is a doctor or saying they have a Ph.D. can be a little vague. Ultimately that doesn’t give the listener much information. So for clear and efficient communication, our policy at “The Pulse” is to introduce someone as an epidemiologist, or pediatrician — being specific about a person’s expertise when we can.

Linas said her concern comes from an issue of representation.

“There are a lot of women, and particularly women of color that really struggle to make their way in science and stay in science, and we face a lot of obstacles, and I think it’s important for women also to be recognized.”

There’s a study that backs her up: researchers found that male doctors introduce their male colleagues as “Dr.” around 70 percent of the time, but introduce their female colleagues as doctor a little less than half the time.

Linas says if media outlets refer to people with Ph.D.s as doctor, especially when we’re interviewing them about their area of expertise, then it shouldn’t be that hard to tell who is the kind of doctor who can help you when someone needs an ambulance — and who’s best suited to give you statistics on the next flu outbreak.

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  • v.190(21); 2018 May 28

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Whom should we really call a “doctor”?

This is in response to the News article by Roger Collier. 1 These days many health professionals use the title “doctor.” Indeed, The Canadian Press Stylebook now decrees that the title of doctor should be reserved for physicians. Physicians, surgeons, dentists, chiropodists, university professors and, in some countries, pharmacists describe themselves as doctors. This raises the question — are they? To answer this question, one has to examine that title from both linguistic and historical standpoints.

The word doctor is derived from the Latin verb “docere,” meaning to teach, or a scholar. Only by special arrangement do any of the preceding professionals teach. Only university professors with a doctoral degree normally teach at a university. Historically speaking, the title doctor was invented in the Middle Ages to describe eminent scholars. These doctorates date back to the 1300s. Such people were accorded a lot of respect and prestige.

The PhD, or Doctor of Philosophy, is the highest graduate degree awarded by our universities.

Health professionals receive undergraduate degrees in medicine. These are professional degrees, and not really doctorates. The MD degree is not a part of graduate faculties at North American universities.

It has now become fashionable to award so-called Doctor of Law degrees to undergraduate law school graduates in the form of a Juris Doctor or JD degree, including at the University of Windsor. These, too, are merely undergraduate degrees.

Because of the respect and prestige, medical schools, particularly in Scotland, started to address their graduates as doctors in the 17th century. The argument was that graduates of such schools obtain a bachelor’s degree before joining medical school. There are problems with such logic, namely, a degree past a bachelor’s degree could potentially be a master’s degree, but not a doctoral degree.

A doctoral degree (PhD) is a degree that one earns after a master’s degree. A PhD entitles a person to use the title doctor. These are the social and physical scientists who conduct and evaluate published research. A PhD degree is normally obtained after six to eight years of hard work past the bachelor’s degree.

When we are asked in a physician’s or a dentist’s office what kind of doctor we are, we respond, “the real one.” We are the ones who teach the others.

We hope that this contribution helps in clearing up the confusion in the community about the title doctor.

The Canadian Press should change its policy and stylebook to reflect these facts and this history.

This contribution should not be construed as an attack on any professional or group of professionals. The main purpose here is to educate the public.

Competing interests: None declared.

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Who gets to be called 'doctor?' Why the controversial question divides journalists, academics, and more.

Editor's note: This popular story from the Daily Briefing's archives was republished on Jul. 18, 2023.

Read Advisory Board's take: How this mirrors the debate over what to call APPs

The public's perception of who qualifies as a "doctor" can be heavily influenced by the media, but few news outlets apply the title to experts who hold doctoral degrees, such as Ph. D's in science—and one epidemiologist in blog for the Scientific American argues this oversight diminishes the authority of experts with advanced degrees.

Why news outlets do not refer to PhD holders as doctors

Several publications—such as NPR and Scientific American —follow the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook, which outlines English grammar, usage, and style and lays out standards for referring to experts who hold a doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.).

is phd always a doctor

Elizabeth Jensen, NPR's ombudsman and public editor, in an opinion piece explained how NPR and many other publications apply the AP Stylebook's standards when referring to doctors and Ph.D. holders. Jensen wrote, "Longstanding NPR policy," based on the standards in the AP Stylebook, "is to reserve the title of 'Dr.' for an individual who holds a doctor of dental surgery, medicine, optometry, osteopathic medicine, podiatric medicine, or veterinary medicine."

Jensen noted the AP further clarifies, "If appropriate in the context, Dr.   also may be used on first reference before the names of individuals who hold other types of doctoral degrees. However, because the public frequently identifies Dr. only with physicians, care should be taken to ensure that the individual's specialty is stated in first or second reference. The only exception would be a story in which the context left no doubt that the person was a dentist, psychologist, chemist, [or] historian."

One epidemiologist's argument against AP Stylebook guidelines on doctors

However Beth Lina, an infectious disease scientist with a Ph.D. in epidemiology, in the Scientific American argues the AP Stylebook's standards for referring to doctors and Ph.D. holders are not appropriate.

Lina writes, "I was extremely disheartened and disappointed to learn that news organizations follow such a simplistic, flawed, and misguided recommendation, particularly as national sentiment suggests that experts are increasingly unnecessary." Lina argues, "By refusing to use the titles scientists have earned, news outlets contribute to the delegitimization of expertise."

According to Lina, NPR's use of the AP standard is at odds with the publication's mission "to create a more informed public, one challenged and invigorated by a deeper understanding and appreciation of events, ideas, and culture within the United States and across the globe," because the rule fails to inform the public.

In fact, Lina writes the AP rule "stand[s] to create potential harm to the scientific method and to the individuals who dedicate their lives to acquiring expertise and advancing science and policy." Lina notes "Dr." is not an "honorifi[c] or simple job descriptio[n]." She writes the title "is earned only upon demonstration of a deep independent understanding of a specific narrow topic."

Lina notes, "The academic credential is particularly important in the case of women in science, as many face extra obstacles to success that most men don't have to contend with."

"But this isn't just a feminist issue," Lina writes, adding, "It's an issue of recognizing achievement and knowledge." She concludes, "If news organizations strive to be leaders in creating a more informed public, it is incumbent upon them to lead by example. Though our titles are not why we continue to pursue scientific discovery, it is only appropriate to recognize us for the experts we are. We have doctorates of philosophy. Please call us 'Doctor'"(Linas, " Observations ,"  Scientific American , 10/22; Jensen,  NPR , 9/28).

Editor’s note: In case you’re curious, the Daily Briefing’s practice is not to use the title of ‘Dr.’ as an honorific, but rather to cite an individual’s degrees or training as appropriate to the story.

Advisory Board's take

is phd always a doctor

Julie Riley , Practice Manager , Physician Practice Roundtable and Sarah Hostetter , Consultant , Physician Practice Roundtable

As this debate shows us, titles can have tremendous power—particularly in the health care field where expertise and trust are so important. When I think about titles in health care, I think about another important question that I often get from members: What should nurse practitioners (NPs) and physician assistants (PAs) be called in medical practices?

“Many of the alternative terms can belittle their important contribution to the care team”

We know that this group can be essential to expand access, improve quality, and offset physician workloads, and NPs and PAs are increasingly taking on more autonomous roles in practices.  So while they’re often taking on this provider role, they are not doctors by training—and we shouldn’t call them doctors. However, many of the alternative terms that are often used can belittle their important contribution to the care team.

For instance, terms like 'mid-level provider' and 'physician extender' seem tied to an outdated understanding of the role these practitioners actually play in care delivery. More specifically:

  • 'Mid-level provider' suggests that they have either a lower hierarchical standing (relative to 'high-level' physicians) or offer lower quality care. But our research has shown that across the country, these practitioners are assuming greater autonomy and taking on their own panels , while evidence demonstrates that APPs offer care of  comparable quality  to that of physicians; and
  • The term 'physician extender' is even less applicable, since it fails to capture the provider-level work that APPs frequently perform. Indeed, where medical groups use APPs to just "extend" the physician, they likely are underutilizing their APPs, and could task RNs, LPNs, or others with those assistant duties.
“While this nomenclature may seem inconsequential, we know that names have power”

While this nomenclature may seem inconsequential, we know that names have power—both over the existing culture and the culture that your practice wants to build. There's a clear rationale for choosing a more empowering term. Our research suggests that medical groups that use their APPs most extensively and effectively also bestow titles commensurate to their role and value. Indeed, groups that are working toward deploying APPs consistently at top-of-license consider a change in terminology as part of their broader effort.

In our research, we use the term 'advanced practice provider' (APP), though some organizations prefer 'advanced practice clinicians' or other variants on the theme. This helps convey the value of APPs and highlights their role within the organization—to themselves, their care teams, and patients.

Want to learn more about how to make the most of your advanced practice providers? If you're a Physician Practice Roundtable or Medical Group Strategy Council member, view our toolkit to access resources to help you develop a high-value, scalable, APP model.

Access the Toolkit

Not a part of those memberships? View our slide deck and on-demand presentation on How to Get the Most Value from Your Advanced Practice Providers.

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Is this content helpful?

Posted on November 30, 2018

Updated on July 18, 2023

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  • ACADEMIC ADVICE

What’s the Difference Between a Ph.D. and a Doctorate?

  • May 1, 2023

Table of Contents

Research (academic), applied (professional), what is a ph.d., is a ph.d. higher than a professional doctorate, doctoral study vs. dissertation, who is it for, what do you learn in each, can a ph.d. be called a doctor, the bottom line.

The terms Ph.D. and Doctorate are often used interchangeably when considering advanced degrees in academia. Both degrees involve rigorous academic study and research, but their focus, duration, and requirements differ. Hence, these significant differences between the two are worth understanding before deciding which path to pursue.

In this article, we will explore the key differences between doctorate vs. Ph.D., including their definitions, the types of programs they are offered in, and the career opportunities they lead to. By the end, you should have a clear understanding of the differences between these two degrees and which one is right for you.

What Is a Doctorate?

A doctorate degree is the highest level of academic degree that can be awarded by a university. It typically requires a minimum of three to five years of advanced study and research beyond a bachelor’s or master’s degree . Doctoral programs are designed to prepare individuals for advanced careers in academia, research, or other professional fields. There are two main types of doctorates: Research (Academic) and Applied (Professional). Let’s talk about each in more detail.

A research doctorate, also known as an academic doctorate, is a type of doctoral degree focused on original research and advancing knowledge in a specific academic field. These programs require students to take advanced coursework in their field and complete original research contributing to the body of knowledge in their study area. The research component is typically the program’s centerpiece, and students are expected to produce a dissertation or thesis that represents a significant contribution to their field of study.

A research doctorate is highly valued in academia, and graduates often pursue careers as professors, researchers, or scholars in their field. While a significant time commitment and dedication are required, they provide individuals with the skills and knowledge necessary to make contributions to their field and advance their careers in academia. Examples of research doctorates include the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), Doctor of Science (D.Sc.), and Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) , among others.

An applied doctorate, or professional doctorate, is a type of doctoral degree that focuses on applying knowledge and skills in a specific profession or industry. These programs emphasize the practical application of research and theories to solve real-world problems in their field.

The curriculum includes coursework designed to enhance students’ professional skills, including leadership, management, or organizational behavior. An applied doctorate program’s capstone project or dissertation addresses a real-world problem or issue within the student’s profession or industry. The research is conducted in collaboration with professionals in the field.

While applied doctorate programs require a significant time commitment and dedication to a specific profession, they provide individuals with the knowledge and skills necessary to become experts in their field and make a great impact. Graduates of such programs are well-prepared to take on leadership roles in their profession. The degree can lead to career advancement and higher salaries.

Examples of applied doctorates include the Doctor of Education (Ed.D.), Doctor of Business Administration (DBA), and Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.), among others.

Students who have completed advanced studies in a particular academic field and contributed original research to that field are awarded a Ph.D., also known as a Doctor of Philosophy. Ph.D. programs are geared toward developing independent scholars who can conduct original research and advance knowledge in their chosen fields.

The coursework of a Ph.D. program involves advanced studies in the student’s area of interest, coupled with a significant research component. Students must produce a dissertation or thesis that adds to the existing body of knowledge in their field of study.

Ph.D. programs generally require multiple years to complete and lead to opportunities for graduates to work as professors, scholars, or researchers within their field of specialization. While Ph.D. degrees are commonly associated with academic careers, they can also offer advantages for graduates seeking positions in government or industry, as they demonstrate expertise in a specific area and an aptitude for original research.

Comparing a Ph.D. to a professional doctorate is difficult, as both degrees have distinct characteristics and are designed for different purposes.

A Ph.D. is primarily a research-focused degree focused on producing independent scholars who can conduct original research and contribute to the advancement of knowledge in a particular field. On the other hand, a professional doctorate focuses on the application of knowledge and skills in a specific profession or industry.

These programs typically emphasize the practical application of research and theories to solve real-world problems in their field. Graduates of professional doctorate programs are well-prepared to take on leadership roles in their profession, and the degree can lead to career advancement and higher salaries.

So, in terms of purpose and focus, Ph.D. and professional doctorate degrees are different. It’s not a matter of one being higher than the other, but rather, it depends on an individual’s career goals and aspirations. Both degrees are considered terminal degrees, meaning they represent the highest level of academic achievement in their respective fields.

Ph.D. vs. Professional Doctorate: Differences

Understanding the differences between a Ph.D. and a professional doctorate can help you make an informed decision about which program is right for you and your career goals. And while both types of degrees require extensive study and research, there are significant differences between the two.

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One of the key differences between a Ph.D. and a professional doctorate is the focus of the doctoral study. Ph.D. programs typically focus on producing independent scholars who can conduct original research and advance knowledge in their chosen field. In contrast, professional doctorate programs emphasize the practical application of research and theories to solve real-world problems in their field.

While both degrees require extensive research, Ph.D. programs often require a significant original contribution to the field in the form of a dissertation, while professional doctorate programs typically require a capstone project or applied research project that demonstrates the student’s ability to apply their knowledge to a real-world problem.

Ph.D. programs are geared toward individuals interested in pursuing an academic career, such as becoming a professor or researcher. These programs prepare students for a life of scholarship and original research.

On the contrary, professional doctorate programs are geared toward professionals already working in a specific profession or industry and wanting to advance their careers through further education. These programs provide students with the knowledge and skills needed to take on leadership roles in their profession or industry.

The content of the curriculum in Ph.D. and professional doctorate programs differs significantly. Ph.D. programs aim to give students extensive knowledge of their field of study and equip them with the skills to conduct original research. On the other hand, professional doctorate programs have a practical focus, with students taking courses that prepare them for leadership positions in their respective professions or industry, including management, ethics, and professional communication.

The title “Doctor” is used to refer to someone who has earned a doctoral degree, whether it is a Ph.D. or a professional doctorate. In academic and professional settings, it is common for individuals with a Ph.D. to be referred to as “Dr.” along with their name, just as someone with a professional doctorate would be.

However, it’s important to note that the title “Doctor” does not necessarily indicate that the person is a medical doctor or a physician. Additionally, it is worth noting that different countries and cultures have different conventions for how the title “Doctor” is used, so it’s always a good idea to check local customs and norms to ensure proper usage.

In conclusion, the decision to pursue a Ph.D. or a professional doctorate ultimately depends on your individual career goals and aspirations. Both degrees are highly respected and can lead to exciting and fulfilling careers.

Remember, the pursuit of advanced education is a challenging but rewarding journey that leads toward new opportunities, personal growth, and the chance to make a positive impact in your field.

Bay Atlantic University

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How to Correctly Use the Titles Dr. & PhD With a Name

How to Reference a Person With a PhD

How to Reference a Person With a PhD

When someone has earned a Doctor of Philosophy, or Ph.D., degree, that person is subsequently referred to as “doctor” in formal speech. The same is true of a person who is a medical doctor, psychologist, dentist or veterinarian. In formal speech, that person should be referred to as “doctor.” However, the rules are different in written form when addressing someone who is called “doctor” in formal speech. In written form, the titles “Dr.” and “Ph.D.” are not interchangeable.

Determine the Type of Doctor

First, you should identify what type of doctor you are addressing. Doctors of medicine and psychology, doctors of dentistry and doctors of veterinary medicine must be addressed differently in comparison to academic doctors who have earned a Doctor of Philosophy doctoral degree. Be advised that there are different types of doctoral degrees. A Doctor of Philosophy degree is just one kind of doctoral degree. There’s also, for example, a Doctor of Education doctoral degree and a Doctor of Psychology doctoral degree. The titles associated with the various doctoral degrees are not interchangeable. Only a person who has earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree should be addressed as Ph.D.

Addressing a Doctor in Writing

Place the title of “Dr.” before the name of a person who is a doctor of medicine or psychology, doctor of dentistry, or doctor of veterinary medicine. For example Dr. George Ross. Always write the word “doctor” in its abbreviated form when it goes before the person’s name. Never write, for example, Doctor George Ross. Do not combine the title of “Dr.” with any other title even if the person could appropriately be addressed by a different title. Never write, for example, “Dr. George Ross, Ph.D.,” even if the person is a medical doctor who has also earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree. Pick one title. Do not use the “Dr.” title when referring to someone who is solely an academic doctor.

Put a comma followed by the title “Ph.D.” after the name of a person who has earned a Doctor of Philosophy doctoral degree. For example Stacey Childs, Ph.D. Do not combine the title of “Ph.D.” with any other title even if the person could appropriately be addressed by a different title. For instance, even if the person being addressed is a doctor of medicine who has also earned a Ph.D., never write, for example, Dr. Stacey Childs, Ph.D. Pick one title. Do not use the “Ph.D.” title when referring to someone who not earned a Doctor of Philosophy doctoral degree.

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  • The Emily Post Institute: What are some professional titles to know?

Maya Austen began freelance writing in 2009. She has written for many online publications on a wide variety of topics ranging from physical fitness to amateur astronomy. She's also an author and e-book publisher. Austen has a Bachelor of Arts in communications from the New England Institute of Art and currently lives in Boston, Mass.

What Is a Doctorate Degree?

A doctorate is usually the most advanced degree someone can get in an academic discipline, higher education experts say.

What Is a Doctorate?

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It's unwise to apply to a doctoral program if you don't have a clear idea of how you might use a doctorate in your career.

In many academic disciplines, the most advanced degree one can earn is a doctorate. Doctorate degree-holders are typically regarded as authorities in their fields, and many note that a major reason for pursuing a doctorate is to increase professional credibility.

"If someone wants to be respected as an expert in their chosen field, and also wants to have a wider array of options in research, writing, publishing, teaching, administration, management, and/or private practice, a doctorate is most definitely worth considering," Don Martin, who has a Ph.D. in higher education administration , wrote in an email.

A doctoral degree is a graduate-level credential typically granted after multiple years of graduate school, with the time-to-degree varying depending on the type of doctoral program, experts say.

Earning a doctorate usually requires at least four years of effort and may entail eight years, depending on the complexity of a program's graduation requirements. It also typically requires a dissertation, a lengthy academic paper based on original research that must be vetted and approved by a panel of professors and later successfully defended before them for the doctorate to be granted.

Some jobs require a doctorate, such as certain college professor positions, says Eric Endlich, founder of Top College Consultants, an admissions consulting firm that helps neurodivergent students navigate undergraduate and graduate school admissions.

Endlich earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree, commonly known as a Ph.D., from Boston University in Massachusetts. He focused on psychology and notes that a doctoral degree is generally required to be a licensed psychologist.

"Since a Ph.D. is a research-focused degree, it can be advantageous to those seeking high-level research positions in scientific fields such as astrophysics or biotechnology," he says.

How Long it Takes to Get a Doctorate Degree

Martin, founder and CEO of Grad School Road Map, an organization that helps grad school applicants navigate the admissions process, says obtaining a doctorate is often a lengthy endeavor.

"Typically it can take between four and six years to complete any doctoral program," he says. "If comprehensive examinations and a dissertation are part of the graduation requirements, it may take a year or two longer. There is no standard amount of time – some students take seven to 10 years to finish."

Endlich says doctoral degree hopefuls should be aware that completing a dissertation may take a long time, especially if unexpected hurdles arise.

"My dissertation, for example, involved recruiting college students to complete questionnaires, and it took much longer than I anticipated to recruit enough subjects for my study," he says.

The standards for a dissertation, which include the proposal and research, are rigorous and usually involve a review and approval by a faculty committee, says Hala Madanat, vice president for research and innovation at San Diego State University in California.

"As part of dissertation requirements, some programs will require publication of the research in high-impact peer-reviewed journals," Madanat wrote in an email.

Types of Doctoral Degree Programs

According to professors and administrators of doctoral programs, there are two types of doctorates.

Doctor of Philosophy

A doctor of philosophy degree is designed to prepare people for research careers at a university or in industry, and teach students how to discover new knowledge within their academic discipline. Ph.D. degrees are offered in a wide range of academic subjects, including highly technical fields like biology , physics, math and engineering; social sciences like sociology and economics; and humanities disciplines like philosophy.

A Ph.D. is the most common degree type among tenure-track college and university faculty, who are typically expected to have a doctorate. But academia is not the only path for someone who pursues a Ph.D. It's common for individuals with biology doctorates to work as researchers in the pharmaceutical industry, and many government expert positions also require a Ph.D.

Professional or clinical doctorates

These are designed to give people the practical skills necessary to be influential leaders within a specific industry or employment setting, such as business, psychology , education or nursing . Examples of professional doctoral degrees include a Doctor of Business Administration degree, typically known as a DBA; a Doctor of Education degree, or Ed.D.; and a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree, or DNP.

A law degree, known as a juris doctor or J.D., as well as a Doctor of Medicine degree, or M.D., are also considered professional doctorates.

How to Get a Doctorate

Getting a doctorate is challenging. It ordinarily requires a series of rigorous classes in a field of study and then passage of a qualification exam in order to begin work on a dissertation, which is the final project.

Dissertations are difficult to write, says David Harpool, vice president of graduate and online programs at Newberry College in South Carolina. Some research indicates that only about half of doctoral students go on to finish their degree, and a main reason is that many never finish and successfully defend their dissertation

"Many of them are in programs that permit them to earn a master’s on the way to a doctorate," Harpool, who earned a Ph.D. from Saint Louis University in Missouri and a J.D. from the University of Missouri , wrote in an email. "The transition from mastering a discipline to creating new knowledge (or at least applying new knowledge in a different way), is difficult, even for outstanding students."

Learn about how M.D.-Ph.D. programs

There is a often a "huge shift in culture" at doctoral programs compared to undergraduate or master's level programs, says Angela Warfield, who earned a Ph.D. in English from the University of Iowa.

Doctoral professors and students have more of a collaborative relationship where they function as colleagues, she says. And there's pressure on each student to produce "significant and original research."

Many full-time doctoral students work for the school as researchers or teaching assistants throughout their program, so time management is crucial to avoid burnout. However, the dissertation "is by far the biggest battle," she says. The goal is to avoid an "ABD," she says, meaning "all but dissertation."

"In my writing group, we had two motivational slogans: 'ABD is not a degree,' and 'a good dissertation is a done dissertation,'" Warfield, now the principal consultant and founder of admissions consulting firm Compass Academics, wrote in an email.

How Are Doctorate Admissions Decisions Made?

Admissions standards for doctoral programs vary depending on the type of doctorate, experts say.

The quality of a candidate's research is a distinguishing factor in admissions decisions, Madanat says. Meanwhile, leaders of clinical and professional doctorate programs say that the quality of a prospective student's work experience matters most.

Doctoral programs typically expect students to have a strong undergraduate transcript , excellent letters of recommendation and, in some cases, high scores on the Graduate Record Examination , or GRE, Endlich says.

"The size of the programs may be relatively small, and universities need to be sure that applicants will be able to handle the demands of their programs," he says.

Because professional doctorates often require students to come up with effective solutions to systemic problems, eligibility for these doctorates is often restricted to applicants with extensive first-hand work experience with these problems, according to recipients of professional doctorates.

In contrast, it's common for Ph.D. students to begin their programs immediately after receiving an undergraduate degree. The admissions criteria at Ph.D. programs emphasize undergraduate grades, standardized test scores and research projects , and these programs don't necessarily require work experience.

Admissions decisions may also depend on available funding, says Madanat, who works with doctoral students to provide funding, workshops and faculty support to help their research.

Who Is a Good Fit for a Doctoral Program?

Doctoral degree hopefuls "should be interested in making a deep impact on their field, open-minded, eager to learn, curious, adaptable and self-motivated," Madanat says. "Doctoral programs are best suited for those whose goals are to transform and change the fields they are studying and want to make a difference in the way the world is."

Someone who loves to study a subject in great depth, can work alone or in teams, is highly motivated and wants to develop research skills may be a good candidate for a doctoral program, Endlich says.

Because of the tremendous effort and time investment involved in earning a doctorate, experts say it's foolish to apply to a doctoral program if it's unclear how you might use a doctorate in your career.

"The students are being trained with depth of knowledge in the discipline to prepare them for critical thinking beyond the current state of the field," Madanat says. "Students should consider the reasons that they are pursuing a doctoral degree and whether or not it aligns with their future professional goals, their family circumstances and finances."

Rachel D. Miller, a licensed marriage and family therapist who completed a Ph.D. degree in couples and family therapy at Adler University in Illinois in 2023, says pursuing a doctorate required her to make significant personal sacrifices because she had to take on large student loans and she needed to devote a lot of time and energy to her program. Miller says balancing work, home life and health issues with the demands of a Ph.D. program was difficult.

For some students, the financial component may be hard to overlook, Warfield notes.

"Student debt is no joke, and students pursuing graduate work are likely only compounding undergraduate debt," she says. "They need to really consider the payoff potential of the time and money sacrifice."

To offset costs, some programs are fully funded, waiving tuition and fees and providing an annual stipend. Some offer health insurance and other benefits. Students can also earn money by teaching at the university or through fellowships, but those adding more to their plate should possess strong time management skills, experts say.

"Graduate school, and higher education in general, can be brutal on your physical and mental health," Miller wrote in an email.

But Miller says the time and effort invested in her doctoral program paid off by allowing her to conduct meaningful research into the best way to provide therapy to children affected by high-conflict divorce and domestic violence. She now owns a therapy practice in Chicago.

Miller urges prospective doctoral students to reflect on whether getting a doctorate is necessary for them to achieve their dream job. "Really know yourself. Know your purpose for pursuing it, because that's what's going to help carry you through."

Searching for a grad school? Access our complete rankings of Best Graduate Schools.

30 Fully Funded Ph.D. Programs

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  • What’s the difference between a PhD and a doctorate?

25 Aug 2022

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In this post, we’ll explore the definitions, differences and similarities of PhDs and doctorates, as well as what a Doctorate in Business Administration (DBA) entails.  

After completing a master’s degree and spending time building a career, many professionals consider continuing their education and pursuing a higher level of academic achievement.

Two of the most common options are a PhD or a doctorate, but what is the difference between the two?

Defining a PhD and a doctorate 

A PhD, or Doctor of Philosophy, is a specific type of doctorate degree that focuses on research in a particular field. It is highly theoretical and involves extensive research to generate new knowledge.

On the other hand, a doctorate degree is an umbrella term for any doctoral-level degree. It can be further categorised into two types: academic and professional.

Academic doctorates, such as a PhD, are focused on research, while professional doctorates, like the Doctorate in Business Administration (DBA) , focus on practical application in professional settings.  

Want to know more about the benefits of a DBA? Explore our guide:

Show me DBA benefits  ❯

Differences between a PhD and a doctorate 

While both a PhD and a doctorate are doctoral-level degrees, there are some key differences between the two. One of the main differences is that a PhD is typically an academic degree, while a doctorate can be either academic or professional. Additionally, a PhD is highly theoretical and research-focused, while a professional doctorate is practical and geared toward applying research to specific professional settings.  

Similarities between a PhD and a doctorate 

Despite their differences, there are also some similarities between a PhD and a doctorate. Both degrees require significant research, critical thinking, and independent study. They are both highly respected and recognised as top-level degrees in their respective fields, and both confer the title of “Doctor” upon completion.  

Weighing up your options? Read our guide to the benefits and drawbacks:

PhDs and doctorates: Pros and cons ❯

Examples of professional doctorates 

Examples of professional doctorates include the Doctorate in Business Administration (DBA), Doctorate of Education (EdD), Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP), and Doctorate of Psychology (PsyD), among others. These degrees are typically designed for individuals who want to apply research to specific professional settings.  

What is a Doctorate in Business Administration (DBA)? 

A DBA is a professional doctorate degree that is focused on applying research to real-world business problems. It is typically designed for individuals who are in senior-level or executive positions in private or public sector organisations. A DBA is often seen as a practical alternative to a PhD in business, as it allows professionals to apply research directly to their work .  

Benefits of pursuing a Global DBA 

Portsmouth Online offers a Global DBA that is online and part-time, making it accessible from anywhere in the world. This course  is specifically designed for senior-level professionals who want to become more qualified in the field of business.

The structured modules will help you develop your ability to challenge current thinking and provide authoritative solutions to practical and research problems. Additionally, the applied research in the DBA thesis will allow you to conduct research on a topic that is directly relevant to your organisation.  

Choosing between a PhD and a doctorate 

Choosing between a PhD and a doctorate depends on your goals and aspirations. If you are interested in academic research and generating new knowledge, a PhD may be the right path for you.

However, if you want to apply research to specific professional settings, a professional doctorate like a DBA may be a better fit. Ultimately, it is important to choose the degree that aligns with your career goals and interests.  

Get more guidance on whether a PhD or a doctorate is right for you:

PhD or doctorate: How to choose ❯

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Northeastern University Graduate Programs

College of Professional Studies

Northeastern University’s online Doctor of Education program provides experienced adult learners, working professionals, and scholar-practitioners from diverse backgrounds and perspectives with the practical knowledge and experience they need to transform the learning landscape. Students gain innovative approaches to create authentic change in their communities. The program was selected as the Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate's Program of the Year for 2022-2023.

The Doctor of Education program is designed to be completed in three to four years of study—following a fast-paced quarter system in lieu of a traditional semester format. Students choose from five concentrations to create a curriculum that matches personal and professional interests. The program's dissertation in practice process will begin at the onset of your coursework as you identify your problem of practice and develop an action plan—incorporating cycles of data collection and analysis, collaboration, change work, and reflection—culminating in the dissemination of your action research findings. Our students come from diverse disciplines and professions, seeking more than just a degree. You'll gain a practical education that translates to your everyday working environment.

While all EdD courses can be completed online (except for hybrid courses in Seattle and Charlotte), annual in-person two-day residencies are held on campus. Residencies focus on networking and tools for career success and allow you to connect with faculty and fellow scholars to share knowledge and experience. You'll attend residencies* in your first and second years of the program at one of our campuses in Boston, Charlotte, or Seattle.

The Northeastern Doctor of Education degree is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE) and was selected as Program of the Year by the Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate Program for 2022-2023.

*Please note: International students enrolling in the online EdD program will be provided with an option to complete the residency through online participation in interactive sessions with fellow scholars offered during the residency period.

More Details

Unique features.

  • You will choose one of five concentrations—higher education administration, innovative teaching and learning, transformative school leadership, workplace learning, and integrative studies—to focus your studies and further customize your curriculum.
  • You'll begin dissertation in practice work at the onset of your program. You'll select a compelling educational/organizational challenge and will be assigned a faculty advisor to support your research throughout the program.
  • All coursework is online—providing flexibility for working professionals. Your residencies will be fulfilled in person*, at one of our campuses in Boston, Charlotte, or Seattle.
  • You'll learn alongside faculty practitioners—engaging with respected leaders who contribute to the field as authors, journal editors, school board members, bloggers, and podcasters.

*In-person participation in the residency is also available for international students.

Concentrations

  • Higher Education Administration: The higher education administration concentration provides an opportunity for experienced higher education professionals to expand their previous understanding of practices within all sectors of postsecondary education—and also advance their professional practice by developing and deepening their understanding of the roles of colleges and universities in our society. Sectors examined include community colleges, four-year colleges, for-profit institutions, and research universities.
  • Innovative Teaching and Learning: The innovative teaching and learning concentration focuses on transforming education through innovation, justice, and policy, by providing engaging opportunities for current and aspiring teaching and learning specialists working in various education spaces. The concentration focuses on teaching and learning both inside and outside the bounds of P-20 schools and focuses on developing and leading innovative curricula as well as professional development.
  • Transformative School Leadership: The transformative school leadership concentration provides innovative opportunities for experienced education professionals who are current and aspiring leaders of early childhood centers, public or private schools, or school districts. The concentration prepares students to lead and transform educational spaces and be equipped to shape the needs of education in K-12, higher education, organizational contexts, and beyond.
  • Workplace Learning: The workplace learning concentration helps professionals gain a deeper understanding of, recognize, and influence real-life social inequalities faced by marginalized populations in the workplace. Courses allow students to advance their professional practice by developing and deepening their knowledge of workplace learning, organizational dynamics, learning strategy, and ethics.
  • Integrative Studies: The integrative studies concentration provides an opportunity for students to design a program of study that fits their own professional goals and includes the required foundation and research courses, concentration courses from any EdD concentration, and electives from the Doctor of Education or Doctor of Law and Policy programs.

Program Objectives

Northeastern's Doctor of Education program is designed for experienced professionals interested in deepening their understanding of education, organizational development, and leadership. Throughout the program, students examine various approaches to critical, practice-based issues, learn research methods, and conduct a doctoral research study that investigates a compelling educational or organizational challenge.

2022-2023 Doctor of Education Program of the Year

The Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate selected Northeastern's EdD program as the 2022-2023 Program of the Year, noting the “redesigned Dissertation in Practice Curriculum and the adoption of action research as its guiding methodology …” The committee praised “the program’s efforts to move beyond the typical five-chapter dissertation and engage scholarly practitioners in the acquisition of skills to realize meaningful change in their local contexts, emphasizing social justice.”

Testimonials

– sara ewell, phd, assistant dean, graduate school of education, – frawn morgan, current student, doctor of education, – aaron b., program graduate, looking for something different.

A graduate degree or certificate from Northeastern—a top-ranked university—can accelerate your career through rigorous academic coursework and hands-on professional experience in the area of your interest. Apply now—and take your career to the next level.

Program Costs

Finance Your Education We offer a variety of resources, including scholarships and assistantships.

How to Apply Learn more about the application process and requirements.

Requirements

  • Online application
  • Academic transcripts: Official undergraduate and graduate degree documentation
  • Describe the problem of practice
  • Explain why you want to investigate it
  • Provide a strong rationale for the significance of the problem
  • Minimum work experience: Three years in a related field
  • Professional resumé: Must summarize work and education history, include an outline of your educational/academic skills with examples such as research and teaching experience, affiliations, publications, certifications, presentations, and other professional skills.
  • Faculty recommendation: Must be from a faculty member in your previous graduate program who can attest to your readiness for doctoral work. If you are no longer acquainted with a faculty member, please choose a professional who can speak of your academic capabilities to engage in doctoral-level research and writing. Recommendations should be presented as a letter attached to the general recommendation form.
  • Two professional recommendations: Must be from individuals who have either academic or professional knowledge of your capabilities, a supervisor, mentor, or colleague. It is preferred that one letter of recommendation come from your current employer and/or supervisor. Recommendations should be presented as a letter attached to the general recommendation form.
  • Proof of English language proficiency: ONLY for students for whom English is not their primary language.

Are You an International Student? Find out what additional documents are required to apply.

Admissions Details Learn more about the College of Professional Studies admissions process, policies, and required materials.

Admissions Dates

Our admissions process operates on a rolling basis; however, we do recommend the application guidelines below to ensure you can begin during your desired start term:

Domestic Application Guidelines

International Application Guidelines *

*International deadlines are only applicable if the program is F1 compliant.

Industry-aligned courses for in-demand careers.

For 100+ years, we’ve designed our programs with one thing in mind—your success. Explore the current program requirements and course descriptions, all designed to meet today’s industry needs and must-have skills.

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The core of the mission of the program is to allow educators to remain in the places they work, focus on a problem of practice, and through experiential learning and site-specific research opportunities in the program, make an immediate impact in their professional environments. The program explicitly integrates research and practice for professionals so they develop the requisite skills for conceiving, designing, conducting, and producing original site-based research in order to effect ethical change related to real-life problems of practice.

Our Faculty

Northeastern University faculty represents a broad cross-section of professional practices and fields, including finance, education, biomedical science, management, and the U.S. military. They serve as mentors and advisors and collaborate alongside you to solve the most pressing global challenges facing established and emerging markets.

Joseph McNabb, PhD

Joseph McNabb, PhD

Cherese Childers-McKee, PhD

Cherese Childers-McKee, PhD

By enrolling in Northeastern, you’ll gain access to students at 13 campus locations, 300,000+ alumni, and 3,000 employer partners worldwide. Our global university system provides students unique opportunities to think locally and act globally while serving as a platform for scaling ideas, talent, and solutions.

Below is a look at where our Education & Learning alumni work, the positions they hold, and the skills they bring to their organization.

Where They Work

  • Boston Public Schools
  • Chicago Public Schools
  • NYC Department of Education
  • Lockheed Martin
  • Veterans Affairs
  • Johns Hopkins
  • Columbia University

What They Do

  • Media Consultant
  • College President
  • Chief Information Officer
  • Instructional Designer
  • Diversity Officer
  • Founder-CEO
  • VP of Student Services
  • Community Services Director

What They're Skilled At

  • Experiential Learning
  • Team Building
  • International Education
  • Change Agency
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Urban Education
  • Strategic Management
  • Student Engagement

Learn more about Northeastern Alumni on  Linkedin .

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Communication Sciences and Disorders

Julie Jeon and Priyanka Gupte

Future audiologist to come full circle on Cochlear Implant journey

Priyanka Gupte

When she was five years old, Priyanka Gupte received her first cochlear implant at Lurie Children’s Hospital. Fast forward a couple of decades, and she’s returning to Chicago to become a provider in the same audiology clinic, caring for pediatric patients with hearing loss.

Gupte, in her third year of the #2 ranked University of Iowa Doctor of Audiology program, begins her externship in the summer, working alongside clinical audiologists treating patients and counseling their families. 

“It will be exciting to return to my roots and the personal connection I have with the Cochlear Implant Program at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital,” she said. 

Gupte was diagnosed with bilateral severe to profound sensorineural hearing loss just before her second birthday. After initially wearing hearing aids, she was fitted with a CI in her left ear and received a second CI in her right ear several years later.

“Initially, my right ear was not a candidate for the CI, as I was still getting benefit from my hearing aid. However, my hearing loss was progressive, and ultimately my residual hearing was gone,” she said. “The surgeon who first operated on me agreed it was time for the second surgery to happen.”

Living with hearing aids -- and later CIs -- pointed her to a communication sciences and disorders undergraduate major at New York University. While she initially leaned toward a career as a speech-language pathologist, an influential NYU professor encouraged her to consider audiology. 

The paradigm shift from audiology patient to audiology provider was impactful, Gupte said, as was the care she received from the CI audiologist at Lurie Children’s Hospital, a clinician she calls not only an advocate, but a role model. 

“(As a patient) she always kept me up to date on CI technology, but what I really appreciated was how she listened to me. She knew my parents had their own opinions, but she put my opinions first as I got older. She helped teach me how to maintain my CIs and urged me to be honest about my hearing.” she said. “I must credit this audiologist for being so supportive and incredible in her care.”

As a future audiologist, Gupte knows her own journey with hearing loss helps her relate to clients she treats at Iowa’s Wendell Johnson Speech and Hearing Clinic, the training clinic within Iowa's Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD). ”Patients appreciate hearing stories similar to what they face, which an audiologist with a hearing loss can tell them,” she said.

Her mentors agree.

“Our pediatric patients with cochlear implants are delighted to encounter Priyanka, a clinician who wears devices just like them,” said Julie Jeon, PhD, Clinical Assistant Professor in CSD. “Their faces light up as they point to Priyanka’s sound processors, excited to share this connection with their parents.”

Within the audiology profession, Gupte is among the minority of clinicians with a hearing loss, and that brings inevitable challenges. Most testing equipment and protocols were developed with an assumption that the audiologist can use normal hearing. For example, listening checks on patients’ hearing aids usually require a special stethoscope, which didn’t work well with Gupte’s CIs.

However, she did not face these difficulties alone and is quick to credit the clinical faculty in CSD for troubleshooting and cheering her on.

“My supervisors at Wendell Johnson were so helpful. They reached out to Iowa’s former audiology students with hearing loss to find out what has worked for them. Using their experiences, I figured out what would work for me. Having a supportive team of clinical instructors really helped me grow my confidence as a clinician,” she said. 

As her teacher, Jeon believes any effort spent in clinical trouble-shooting is far outweighed by Gupte’s role in  creating an environment where others can be authentically themselves.  

“ Priyanka's unique perspective as an audiologist with a cochlear implant has truly enriched our cultural competence within the healthcare sector, fostering a more inclusive environment for all individuals seeking care,” she said. 

“Leveraging the expertise of audiologists with personal experience of cochlear implants can lead to a more inclusive and culturally sensitive approach to patient care, ultimately fostering a more equitable healthcare landscape for all.”

NOTICE: The University of Iowa Center for Advancement is an operational name for the State University of Iowa Foundation, an independent, Iowa nonprofit corporation organized as a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt, publicly supported charitable entity working to advance the University of Iowa. Please review its full disclosure statement.

Screen Rant

"life doesn't always have happy endings": good doctor season 7's shocking death explained by writer.

The Good Doctor writer Adam Scott Weissman explains the show's shocking mid-season character death and how the writers handled it sensitively.

Warning: Spoilers ahead for The Good Doctor season 7, episode 5, "Who at Peace."

  • Dr. Wolke's death on The Good Doctor marks a pivotal moment of acceptance and reconciliation for his character, says writer Adam Scott Weissman.
  • The show aims to address sensitive themes like hate crimes and LGBTQ+ struggles.
  • The impact of Dr. Wolke's death will be explored in future episodes, emphasizing the importance of representation and his character.

The Good Doctor writer Adam Scott Weissman explains why season 7, episode 5, "Who at Peace," includes such a shocking death. The long-running medical drama's seventh and final season has primarily been focused on Dr. Sean Murphy's (Freddie Highmore) experiences with parenthood. It has also further explored Dr. Asher Wolke (Noah Galvin), examining the lingering pain he experiences from his family's non-acceptance of him and how it has impacted his views on marriage and religion. However, things took a shocking turn when "Who at Peace" killed off one of The Good Doctor 's lead characters .

In an interview with The Wrap , Weissman broke down The Good Doctor season 7 's unexpected choice to have Dr. Wolke killed in a hate crime. Weissman explained that Dr. Wolke's story came full circle, as his final lines saw him finally accept all components of his identity . He also acknowledged that the show was aware of the "bury your gays” trope, thus relying on input from showrunner Liz Friedman, a member of the LGBTQ+ community, to ensure sensitivity. Check out Weissman's statement below:

We came into this [episode] with the thought that life doesn’t always have happy endings. Sometimes things happen suddenly and in a tragic way. Oftentimes [these issues] become real when it happens to someone you know, or someone we love on TV, so this horrible thing happens that also brings it home for our viewers. Asher’s final line when he says, ‘I’m not just a Jew, I’m a gay one too.’ Those were two identities that prior to that he hadn’t been able to reconcile. He felt like he had to choose, which is what he is sort of going through in this episode. Him being able to come to that conclusion that I can be both of these two things was super important to us. It’s a sad note, but it’s also a high note in that it’s a heroic moment for him where he embraces all sides of his identity, and does it to protect someone else and to protect the sacred space.

What Dr. Asher Wolke’s Death Means for The Good Doctor

Dr. Wolke's death in The Good Doctor will have an impact on the remainder of season 7. The surgical resident first made his debut in season 4 as a recurring character. However, Dr. Wolke quickly became a staple of the show and was upgraded to leading character status by season 5. He has quite a painful backstory, as his family did not accept him leaving to study medicine, becoming an atheist, and coming out as a gay man. Their non-acceptance led to him swearing off anything remotely connected to his Jewish identity.

However, The Good Doctor also added hope and positivity to his story, including following his reconciliation with his family and the progress in his relationship with nurse Jerome Martel (Giacomo Baessato). Asher became one of the show's sole main LGBTQ+ characters , and his story gave important representation to individuals who have struggled to find acceptance in religious communities. His absence would have been felt no matter what, but the final episode made his death even more painful by revealing he had finally found peace and was moments away from getting engaged to Jerome.

The trailer for Good Doctor season 7 , episode 6 confirms that it will include Asher's funeral and explore how the other characters cope with his passing. However, the show must prove that the death was necessary to avoid accusations of following a harmful trope. It does have the opportunity to share an important message about the reality of hate crimes impacting the Jewish and LGBTQ+ communities. Still, The Good Doctor only has five episodes left to address the situation and must carefully balance closing out the entire series while justifying this heartbreaking plot twist.

The Good Doctor airs new episodes Tuesdays on ABC.

Source: The Wrap

The Good Doctor

The Good Doctor is a medical drama television series that tells the story of Dr. Shaun Murphy, a young surgeon who has autism, as he navigates his career and personal life at the fictional San Jose St. Bonaventure Hospital. Freddie Highmore plays the title role. The series premiered in 2017 on ABC.

That Time ‘Doctor Who’ Had Agatha Christie Abducted by Aliens

The answer to a mystery? Always aliens.

The Big Picture

  • The Doctor Who episode "The Unicorn and the Wasp" features Agatha Christie solving a murder mystery with the Doctor and posits an explanation for Christie's real-life disappearance.
  • The episode pays tribute to Christie's enduring legacy with humorous references.
  • Christie's actress, Fenella Woolgar, humanizes the iconic writer by highlighting her insecurities alongside her brilliance.

Doctor Who 's titular Doctor has met countless historical figures throughout their travels . Gallivanting with icons like William Shakespeare , Charles Dickens , and Vincent van Gogh is essential to the series’ capriciously wish-fulfillment approach to time travel, and its origins as a children's educational program. A gleefully clever take on this recurring concept occurs in Season 4's "The Unicorn and the Wasp," spotlighting none other than Dame Agatha Christie (before she was a Dame). Still as relevant a draw as ever (as the BritBox series Agatha Christie's Murder is Easy indicates), "The Unicorn and the Wasp" functions as a love letter to Christie and posits an “explanation” for the real-life mystery surrounding her infamous 10-day disappearance . Duh! It was aliens! But it's aliens filtered through Christie's wily wit as the world's best-selling author solves a murder alongside the Doctor ( David Tennant ) and his bestie Donna Noble ( Catherine Tate ).

The show follows the adventures of a Time Lord “The Doctor” who is able to regenerate, and the Doctor’s human friends. The Doctor and companion’s journey through time and space in the TARDIS – a time-traveling ship shaped like a police box – saving the universe with a combination of wit, bravery, and kindness.

What Is ‘Doctor Who’s Agatha Christie Episode About?

Written by Gareth Roberts , Doctor Who 's " The Unicorn and the Wasp " opens with the Doctor and Donna Noble sneaking into a 1920s garden party. The setting's details immediately evoke Christie : a sprawling mansion house and its posh inhabitants, a quiet countryside, and the local Reverend Golightly ( Tom Goodman-Hill ) zipping past on his bike. And, naturally, the sparkly-beaded flapper attire, a costume Donna enthusiastically assumes. She and the Doctor are caught unawares by the party's guest of honor, a polite but troubled Agatha Christie ( Fenella Woolgar ). The time-traveling pair immediately dissolve into gushing fans (in a previous episode, the Doctor established himself as a Christie lover).

The episode is set in 1926. By then, Christie had authored six of her 65 novels (not counting her short stories, poetry, and plays) . Three involved Belgian detective Hercule Poirot , the creation forever associated with her name. She was a proven bestseller. In this episode, it's not an accomplishment from which she derives joy. The Doctor informs Donna that, historically, Christie has just discovered her husband's affair with a younger woman. It's also the day when Christie vanished for 10 days before reappearing at the Harrogate Hotel. She claimed amnesia and never revealed if she knew what had occurred during that time .

Playing a human version of an icon, Fenella Woolgar infuses Christie with dignified wariness . When the party's host, Lady Clemency Eddison ( Felicity Kendal ) probes about Christie's husband's absence from the party, Christie tosses out defensive barbs. They're coated in socially mandated courtesy, but she tries to assert her self-worth and individuality after her adulterous husband leaves it in tatters. "Is he needed?" she demands Lady Clemency. "Can't a woman make her own way in the world?"

‘Doctor Who’ Has Agatha Christie Solve a Mystery

The party's attendees don't have much time to, well, party like it's 1926, before, gasp — there's a body in the library! The unfortunate corpse belongs to Professor Peach ( Ian Barritt ), who holds the honor of kicking off the episode's many Easter Eggs. Before his murder, Peach almost name-drops the title of Christie's rom-com novel Why Didn't They Ask Evans , and his murder's location references the 1942 Miss Marple book The Body in the Library . Clue parallels worm their way in for giggles: "Professor Peach, in the library, with the lead pipe," Donna declares. After examining Peach's body, the Doctor deduces that the murderer is an alien . Cue the investigatory hijinks!

If there's such a thing as bottled delight, it's watching Agatha Christie's brilliant mind — especially with most of her career ahead of her — deduce a crime side-by-side with the Doctor and Donna . Who doesn’t want to see her apply that brain to “real-life” mysteries? That's a spin-off waiting to happen. Christie actively participates in the Doctor-Donna's amateur investigation, as she should. She's their equal and venerated as such, almost counting as a one-off companion . Gareth Roberts's crackling dialogue amplifies the fun with reference after reference , ranging from the obvious to the sneaky: her bibliography on a bookshelf , the murders evoking And Then There Were None 's complex staging, and Christie calling the house "crooked" — i.e., her book Crooked House .

Saoirse Ronan & Sam Rockwell Protect Agatha Christie in This Murder Mystery

A telltale tribute more thematic than quippy? Everyone's lying. When the Doctor demands the cast's alibis, Lady Eddison claims she was having tea when Peach's death happened. In reality, she was drinking alone. Robina Redmond ( Felicity Jones — yes, it's Jyn Erso!) was loading a gun in the bathroom, which is her way of prepping for the party. Colonel Hugh ( Christopher Benjamin ) reminiscing about the war is him fantasizing about showgirls. Everyone has different motivations and secrets reflecting the breadth of human experience, an idea synonymous with Christie's work .

‘Doctor Who’ Humanizes Agatha Christie’s Brilliance

Through every campy twist and turn, Fenella Woolgar plays Christie with the appropriate level of dry sass and refined British dignity, as well as a woman reluctantly electrified by this mind-titillating distraction. She's gracious but assertive, wounded and angry, and refuses to publicly acknowledge how her husband's betrayal has cut her to the quick. The group guilt-tripping her — why hasn't she figured out who the murderer is? — compounds her existing feelings of inferiority . She says she's failed them; far from it. But we creatives are usually the first ones to doubt our worth; we're not objective. Christie carries the extra weight of this murderer "mocking" her work by mimicking it. "I've had enough scorn for one lifetime," Agatha says, even as she derides herself as "a purveyor of nonsense" who fears "my books will be forgotten, like ephemera."

The Doctor and Donna won't stand for such self-derision, no matter how human a reaction it is . The best Doctor Who episodes reveal their historical figures as humans riddled with flaws and doubts. The Doctor might be our hero , but individual people are his heroes. Donna and Christie bond over their unfaithful significant others; the former shares how the Doctor helped her rediscover her confidence and find a fulfilling purpose. The Doctor monologues about Christie's staying power, how her brilliance boils down to her understanding of the human condition's joys and perils. "All of those tiny things that can turn the most ordinary person into a killer," he says, rejuvenating her confidence through her honed insight. David Tennant and Catherine Tate's chemistry shines through the script's especially goofy banter, yet the star of "The Unicorn and the Wasp" is the great Dame.

With or without her new friends' encouragement, Christie's expertise notices details others wouldn't: a disturbed flowerbed, cover story inconsistencies, different kinds of poison. On a stormy night complete with crackling thunder , Agatha does a Poirot on the remaining group by patiently and decidedly revealing their secrets; the Doctor and Donna watch with the "sit back and relax" excitement of a popcorn-munching gif. "Every murder is essentially the same," Agatha muses. "They're committed because someone wants something." Indeed, everyone here desires something different. Christie's "wibbly wobbly timey wimey" explanation is appropriately silly and dependent upon her catalog : a character adores The Murder of Roger Ackroyd so much, it psychically imprints upon an alien's brain.

‘The Unicorn and the Wasp’ Is a Love Letter to Agatha Christie

To fully spoil "The Unicorn and the Wasp" wouldn't be fair. Suffice to say, the "Agatha Christie was abducted by aliens" explanation for her disappearance is an adorable twist , and it doesn't happen the way we expect. Once Christie concludes her 10-day sojourn, the Doctor and Donna wax poetic about how readers still consume her works in the year 5 billion. Who else can lay claim to that? James Pritchard , Christie's great-grandson and the CEO of her estate, praised her place in Doctor Who canon to CinemaBlend:

"I think the first thing I took from it was that it’s a sort of testimony to her power in culture in the UK. I mean there aren’t many novelists you’d put in Doctor Who. Doctor Who has its own huge place in British culture, and I think it was a privilege to have her included in that. And I think that’s what you take from it. When anyone thinks about ‘murder mystery,’ they think about Agatha Christie. She’s synonymous with the genre. And I think that is a testimony to her profile, her success."

"The Unicorn and the Wasp" isn't the last time Doctor Who samples from Dame Agatha's worlds. Season 8's "Mummy on the Orient Express" drops Peter Capaldi and his companion Clara Oswald ( Jenna Coleman ) into a mummy-filled parody of (you guessed it) Murder on the Orient Express . (Former Who showrunner Chris Chibnall is even teaming with Netflix for a production of The Seven Dial Mystery .) Only one of these two episodes centers on the bestselling novelist of all time. Wacky and wondrous, “The Unicorn and the Wasp” is one of Season 4’s standouts, making one wonder why Doctor Who didn’t tackle Christie before, but grateful the loving result took this long . Like a Poirot reveal at a story's end, it was worth the wait.

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COMMENTS

  1. Is a PhD a Doctor? [The full guide]

    Yes, a person with a PhD is a Doctor and use the "Dr" title before their name. This is not to be confused with a medical doctor. ... Also, some cultures are much more formal than others and wish to show respect by always using the official title of an academic. Feel free to use whichever mode of interaction you wish - but, as a general ...

  2. Can PhDs legitimately claim to be doctors?

    This is possibly country dependent, but for Germany this is utterly wrong: "many also think that the MD is much more difficult to attain than a PhD" - Medical doctors get the equivalent of a "paper doctorate" thrown after them so they can be called "doctor" as part of their degree, while "real doctors" have to start a doctorate and carry out rigorous research to obtain the degree/academic title.

  3. Is a PhD a Doctor? Demystifying Academic Titles

    Despite the "doctor" title, having a PhD doesn't mean that you can practice medicine. It's entirely different from being a medical doctor (MD). To understand what a PhD is, it helps to know what's involved. To earn a PhD, you'll take a series of courses. You'll also complete a huge research and writing project called a dissertation.

  4. How can one differentiate between Dr. (PhD) and Dr. (MD or DO)?

    3. While both have the title of "doctor," that is identifying the fact that they both have the same education level, a doctorate. The meaningful difference here is occupation: one might be a professor, the other a physician. To differentiate between the two you can use the actual doctorate type or the job title:

  5. Should All Ph.D.'s Be Called 'Doctor'? Female Academics Say Yes

    Even in 2018, with women making up 34 percent of active physicians and more than half of medical school matriculants and doctorate recipients, many people assume that "Dr." refers to a man. Bias in forms of address and use of titles is not limited to gender, many participants in the Twitter discussion pointed out.

  6. "M.D." vs. "Ph.D." vs. "Dr.": Are They Synonyms?

    M.D., which can be used with or without the periods (M.D. or MD) is the designation for a medical doctor. This is earned by attending medical school (typically a four-year program after completing at least one undergraduate degree, plus a residency program), and learning to diagnose patients' symptoms and offer treatment.

  7. Who gets to be called 'doctor'?

    The NPR ombudsman explained that like many media outlets, NPR follows the Associated Press stylebook, which says if someone practices medicine, NPR calls them doctor. If it's someone with a Ph.D., it's up to the individual media outlet. On the radio, we don't have a lot of time, and every word counts. Saying someone is a doctor or saying ...

  8. Whom should we really call a "doctor"?

    A doctoral degree (PhD) is a degree that one earns after a master's degree. A PhD entitles a person to use the title doctor. These are the social and physical scientists who conduct and evaluate published research. A PhD degree is normally obtained after six to eight years of hard work past the bachelor's degree.

  9. Who Can Call Themselves 'Doctor?' The Debate Heats Up

    Medical students (31%) were also more likely than physicians to say it was always appropriate for non-MD doctorates to use the title "doctor" and 64% said it depends on the context.

  10. What Does 'PhD' Stand For?

    A PhD is the highest possible academic degree a student can obtain. PhD stands for "Doctor of Philosophy," which refers to the immense knowledge a student gains when earning the degree. While you can actually get a PhD in philosophy, "Doctor of Philosophy" doesn't always refer to someone who has a terminal degree in that discipline.

  11. Who gets to be called 'doctor?' Why the controversial ...

    Elizabeth Jensen, NPR's ombudsman and public editor, in an opinion piece explained how NPR and many other publications apply the AP Stylebook's standards when referring to doctors and Ph.D. holders. Jensen wrote, "Longstanding NPR policy," based on the standards in the AP Stylebook, "is to reserve the title of 'Dr.' for an individual who holds a doctor of dental surgery, medicine, optometry ...

  12. Should a PhD Be Called 'Doctor'?

    In some situations, if you're going to be on a panel and the subject is in your area of expertise, that you wrote your PhD thesis on, you can be called "doctor" if you wish. In my own instance, I ...

  13. What's the Difference Between a Ph.D. and a Doctorate?

    The title "Doctor" is used to refer to someone who has earned a doctoral degree, whether it is a Ph.D. or a professional doctorate. ... Additionally, it is worth noting that different countries and cultures have different conventions for how the title "Doctor" is used, so it's always a good idea to check local customs and norms to ...

  14. Who Should Be Called a 'Doctor'?

    It prohibits the use of "doctor" or the prefix "Dr." by a health care provider who is not a licensed doctor of medicine (MD) or doctor of osteopathy (DO) in any advertisements. Violation of the law could result in the loss or suspension of the practitioner's license. Laws regulating use of the title of doctor have been in effect since ...

  15. How to Correctly Use the Titles Dr. & PhD With a Name

    Addressing a Doctor in Writing. Place the title of "Dr." before the name of a person who is a doctor of medicine or psychology, doctor of dentistry, or doctor of veterinary medicine. For example Dr. George Ross. Always write the word "doctor" in its abbreviated form when it goes before the person's name. Never write, for example ...

  16. Explained: What Is a PhD Degree?

    PhD stands for Doctor of Philosophy. This is one of the highest level academic degrees that can be awarded. PhD is an abbreviation of the Latin term (Ph)ilosophiae (D)octor. Traditionally the term 'philosophy' does not refer to the subject but its original Greek meaning which roughly translates to 'lover of wisdom'.

  17. What Is a Doctorate or a Doctoral Degree?

    A doctor of philosophy degree is designed to prepare people for research careers at a university or in industry, and teach students how to discover new knowledge within their academic discipline ...

  18. Doctor of Philosophy

    A Doctor of Philosophy (PhD, Ph.D., or DPhil; Latin: philosophiae doctor or doctor philosophiae) is the most common degree at the highest academic level, awarded following a course of study and research. The degree is abbreviated PhD and sometimes, especially in the U.S., as Ph.D. It is derived from the Latin Philosophiae Doctor, pronounced as three separate letters (/ p iː eɪ tʃ ˈ d iː ...

  19. What is the Difference Between a PhD and a Doctorate?

    The PhD, also known as the Doctor of Philosophy, is a research degree, which is one of the most common types of doctoral degrees, and is awarded to graduates in many different fields. For those asking, "Is a PhD higher than a doctorate?" the answer is simple: no. A PhD lies within the doctorate category, so one is not better than the other.

  20. What's the difference between a PhD and a doctorate?

    While both a PhD and a doctorate are doctoral-level degrees, there are some key differences between the two. One of the main differences is that a PhD is typically an academic degree, while a doctorate can be either academic or professional. Additionally, a PhD is highly theoretical and research-focused, while a professional doctorate is ...

  21. PhD vs Doctorate: What's the Difference?

    While a Ph.D. and a doctorate award "Doctor" titles, a Ph.D. tends to be an academic degree while a doctorate is usually a professional degree. Ph.D.s often focus on extensive research and may lead to job titles such as research scientist, historian, philosopher, professor or engineer. Because a doctorate typically provides students with ...

  22. PhD vs Ph.D.

    Capitalization within the abbreviation "PhD" or "Ph.D.". As you may already figure, both "D" and "P" are capitalized but "h" is written in lowercase both in "PhD" and "Ph.D.". This is because "P" and "h" are both parts of the word "Philosophiae" or "Philosophy," while "D" is a separate initial ...

  23. Doctor of Education (EdD)

    The Doctor of Education program is designed to be completed in three to four years of study—following a fast-paced quarter system in lieu of a traditional semester format. Students choose from five concentrations to create a curriculum that matches personal and professional interests. ... Sara Ewell, PhD, Associate Teaching Professor. Students.

  24. Future audiologist to come full circle on Cochlear Implant journey

    Fast forward a couple of decades, and she's returning to Chicago to become a provider in the same audiology clinic, caring for pediatric patients with hearing loss.Gupte, in her third year of the #2 ranked University of Iowa Doctor of Audiology program, begins her externship in the summer, working alongside clinical audiologists treating ...

  25. The Good Doctor Season 7 Killing Off 1 Specific Character Sent The

    The shocking death of a major character on The Good Doctor made a powerful point but also sent the wrong message in one specific way. The Freddie Highmore-led drama has combined more lighthearted stories with medical drama during its final season, focusing mostly on Shaun's struggles as he becomes a new father and his professional difficulties as he attempts to teach an autistic medical student.

  26. "Life Doesn't Always Have Happy Endings": Good Doctor Season 7's

    Dr. Wolke's death in The Good Doctor will have an impact on the remainder of season 7. The surgical resident first made his debut in season 4 as a recurring character. However, Dr. Wolke quickly became a staple of the show and was upgraded to leading character status by season 5. He has quite a painful backstory, as his family did not accept him leaving to study medicine, becoming an atheist ...

  27. That Time 'Doctor Who' Had Agatha Christie Abducted by Aliens

    The answer to a mystery? Always aliens. The Doctor Who episode "The Unicorn and the Wasp" features Agatha Christie solving a murder mystery with the Doctor and posits an explanation for Christie's ...