Differences Between a PhD and Professional Doctorate

Higher education has long made a distinction between those who are expert in creating knowledge (PhDs) and those who are expert in using knowledge (e.g., MDs and JDs).

In response to demands from students and employers, institutions of higher education have developed professional doctorates, for example the Doctor of Business Administration (DBA), and the Doctor of Education (EdD). The essential difference between a PhD and a professional doctorate is that the possessor of a PhD has demonstrated the ability to use research skills to create original knowledge that contributes to the research and theory in a field, and a possessor of a professional doctorate has demonstrated the ability to evaluate, synthesize, and apply knowledge in a field. Learners in professional doctorate programs may choose to write PhD equivalent dissertations.

Who should choose to enroll in a PhD program?

Someone who wants to make an original and significant contribution to a body of knowledge in a field and whose career goal is to teach at a university or do research.

Who should choose to enroll in a professional doctorate program (i.e. EdD, DBA)?

Someone who has an interest in the practical application of knowledge in a field and wants a career in a practical setting (such as a business or corporation, a K-12 school system or training institute, or a clinic or hospital).

The Dissertation

Unlike medical degrees (MD, DO, etc.) and law degrees (JD), which are earned by success in examinations and courses, earning a PhD or professional doctorate requires a capstone achievement in the form of a dissertation. This is often the endeavor that launches a scholarly career or entitles one to claim professional expertise in a field.


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