Doctoral Approaches and Timelines in Health


Are you considering a doctoral degree in health? Are you wondering how long it takes to become a doctor or what different doctors do in the healthcare field? There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to doctoral degrees. Hopefully, this article will help clear a few things up!

Everyone should understand that embarking on a doctoral journey of any kind is a significant undertaking, and the timelines for completing advanced degrees can vary based on the specific type of program. However, understanding the time investment is the first step in making that decision or appreciating the journey.

Today, we’ll explore some of the potential educational outcomes and timelines for Doctor of Medicine (M.D.), Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.), Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), and Doctor of Education (EdD) programs. Understanding these timelines is crucial for individuals considering or currently pursuing advanced degrees in these fields, and it is also excellent information for the general public.

Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.):

Becoming a medical doctor in the United States is demanding and involves a structured educational progression. Outcomes vary depending on specialty but can include:

  • Internal Medicine: Focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of internal organ systems.
  • Surgery: Involves various surgical specialties such as general surgery, orthopedic surgery, and neurosurgery.
  • Pediatrics: Specializes in the healthcare of infants, children, and adolescents.
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology: Concentrates on women’s reproductive health and childbirth.
  • Psychiatry: Deals with the diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders.
  • And many more.

The Timeline

The timeline to become a medical doctor can sometimes be confusing. However, generally speaking, the path is as follows:

  • Bachelor’s Degree (4 years): Aspiring physicians typically begin their journey with a four-year undergraduate degree in a relevant field.
  • Medical School (4 years): After earning a bachelor’s Degree, students enter medical school for an intensive two-year educational program focused on medical sciences, and two years of clinical skills training, and hands-on experience.
  • Residency (varies): Residency medicine is, essentially, post-graduate training or “internship.” The amount of time spent in residency varies based on specialties.

Total Combined Duration:

The overall timeline for M.D. and D.O. programs is around 8 years, excluding residency. Residency duration varies dramatically by specialty but typically ranges from an additional 1 to 6 years.

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD):

PhD programs are typically research-focused and oriented for jobs in academia. The Doctor of Philosophy is currently recognized as the most prevalent form of doctoral Degree, conferred in virtually all academic disciplines at universities worldwide. This means that if there is a topic to be explored and pondered, you might be able to get a PhD in that discipline.

Various Specialities

  • Biology: Specializations can include molecular biology, genetics, ecology, and bioinformatics.
  • Psychology: Areas of focus may include clinical psychology, cognitive psychology, or developmental psychology.
  • Engineering: Specializations range from civil engineering to electrical engineering and materials science.
  • Literature: Concentrations could include American literature, world literature, or literary theory.
  • Economics: Specialties may include microeconomics, macroeconomics, or econometrics.
  • And many more.

Health-Related Specialties

The PhD may also delve into the world of health. Here are just a few examples:

  • Public Health: Focuses on population health, epidemiology, health policy, and disease prevention.
  • Health Psychology: Examines the psychological factors influencing health behaviors, mental health, and well-being.
  • Health Policy and Management: Concentrates on policy development, healthcare administration, and management within health organizations.
  • Health Informatics: Integrates information technology and healthcare to improve the efficiency and quality of healthcare delivery.
  • And many more.

The Timeline

  • Bachelor’s Degree (4 years): Students pursuing a PhD typically start with a four-year undergraduate degree.
  • Master’s Degree (1-2 years): Following the bachelor’s Degree, students typically complete a master’s Degree, which usually takes 1-2 years.
  • PhD Coursework, Exams, Research, and Dissertation (3-6 years on average): The core of the PhD program involves coursework, comprehensive exams, original research, and the completion of a dissertation. This phase typically takes an average of 3-6 years.

Total Combined Duration:

The total combined duration for a PhD program, including the bachelor’s and master’s degree phases, ranges from 8 to 12 years on average.

Doctor of Education (EdD):

The EdD is usually very similar to the PhD. It encompasses components from bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels. Although many EdD programs closely resemble their PhD counterparts, a few distinctions are present, often revolving around the research methodologies employed (quantitative vs qualitative). Despite these nuances, the divergence between the two degrees is generally modest.

The EdD, perhaps overly underrated, owes its perceived ambiguity, in part, to the “of education” part of the title. However, this degree stands out for its versatility, attributed specifically to its adaptability. The primary contrast between a PhD and an EdD lies in their focus; the former leans towards research, while the latter prioritizes practical application. A popular adage captures this essence: “A PhD seeks to understand the world; the EdD aims to change it.” This is to say that the EdD, embodying the spirit of a true “doctor,” meaning “to teach,” emphasizes information dissemination and practical (real-world) applications of the information explored. Accordingly, and contrary to popular understanding, its influence extends well beyond education, accommodating a diverse range of specializations.

Various Specialties

  • Organizational Leadership: Emphasizes leadership skills and strategies for driving positive change within various organizations, not limited to educational institutions.
  • Educational Leadership: Focuses on preparing individuals for leadership roles in educational institutions.
  • Public Policy and Administration: Focuses on applying educational knowledge to influence policy decisions and administration at local, national, or international levels.
  • Social Work Administration: Combines education and practice for individuals aspiring to lead and make a difference in the field of social work.
  • And many more.

Health-Related Specialties

Just like the PhD, the EdD can also have many specializations in health. Here are just a few examples:

  • Healthcare Administration and Leadership: Focuses on preparing leaders for managerial and administrative roles within healthcare organizations.
  • Community Health Education: Concentrates on educating communities about health issues, disease prevention, and wellness promotion.
  • Health Science: Training individuals or other health-oriented professionals about nutrition and overall health and lifestyle choices. This might also include an emphasis on Public Health, focusing on population health, epidemiology, health policy, and disease prevention.
  • Global Health Education: Addresses health challenges on a global scale, emphasizing cross-cultural perspectives and international collaboration.
  • Outcome Oriented Research: Seeking remedies and management tactics of chronic disease.
  • And many more.

The Timeline

  • Bachelor’s Degree (4 years): As with other doctoral programs, individuals pursuing an EdD typically start with a four-year bachelor’s Degree.
  • Master’s Degree (1-2 years): EdD candidates then complete a master’s Degree, which usually takes 1-2 years.
  • EdD Coursework, Exams, Research, and Dissertation (3-6 years on average): The doctoral phase involves coursework, exams, original research, and the completion of a dissertation, lasting an average of 3-6 years.

Total Combined Duration:

Like the PhD, the timeline for an EdD program, including bachelor’s and master’s degrees, ranges from 8 to 12 years on average.

Other Doctoral Degrees

Of course, there are many other options for doctoral degrees. Each has its focus, requirements, and specializations, which can vary depending on the institution or country. While I cannot list them all, here are some common ones:

  • Doctor of Science (ScD): Similar to a PhD but often used in scientific disciplines.
  • Doctor of Strategic Leadership (DSL): Similar to a leadership-oriented PhD or EdD, this focuses on leadership and strategy in organizational settings.
  • Doctor of Psychology (PsyD): Focuses on clinical practice and practical applications of psychology.
  • Doctor of Business Administration (DBA): A professional doctorate in business, often involving applied research.
  • Doctor of Juridical Science (SJD): Typically pursued by those seeking advanced legal research beyond a J.D. degree.
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP): Emphasizes clinical practice and leadership in nursing.
  • Doctor of Public Health (DrPH): Focuses on leadership and advanced public health practice.
  • Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM): For those in the field of veterinary medicine.
  • And many more.

The journey toward earning a doctoral degree is a multifaceted and time-consuming process. Of that, there is no doubt. Understanding the distinct timelines for these programs is essential for prospective students to make informed decisions and navigate their educational pathways successfully. Whether aspiring to be a medical practitioner, a research scholar, or a practice-oriented leader, each doctoral program offers a unique set of challenges and rewards, shaping individuals into experts in their chosen fields.

Speaking of misconceptions, be sure to read my article ChatGPT Is No Health Expert.