MD/DO vs. PhD???

Hello all!

I’ve been wrestling with some choices that have come before me recently and was wondering if you had any educated opinions that may help.

I’ve been working as a medical technologist for the past 12 years and have really enjoyed this area of the medical field. I would love to advance in my area, but it seems the only “upward” direction I can go in this profession is administrative (which I have a lot of experience in). I would rather stay in the “clinical” arena. I would rather work directly with patients and clinical work than schedules, budgets, and personnel issues. I hope this makes sense…

Anyway, I was just recently given the opportunity to go into the academic setting and teach at a university. One of the perks of this position is that they would fund a Master’s degree, and subsequent PhD. This is quite enticing, in that I would be paid a regular salary and be funded for the education, rather than going into a lot of debt for med school. In return, I would be expected to dedicate a year of teaching (with full pay and benefits) for every year of education they sponsor.

I love the academic setting, especially since I would be keeping my mind in the clinical sciences. I also enjoy working with students, and am excited about the research opportunities that a university environment offers.

I was just wondering, can PhD scientists also work alongside MD’s and DO’s in patient care? I would be given freedom to direct my PhD education in a number of areas relevant to laboratory sciences (ie. microbiology, epidemiology, pathology, histology, hematology, hemostasis, urology, chemistry, etc).

I guess what I need to know is: is a PhD Hematologist equal to an MD/DO Hematologist? Or PhD Pathologist equal to an MD/DO Pathologist, you get the idea…

Either path would lead to becoming a “doctor,” which has been a lifelong dream that is now closer to reality than before. I truly desire to care for patients, and am trying to figure out which direction to go to further fulfill that desire.

Thanks for any advice! You guys are terrific!


My cousin, then 22, a 3.6 GPA from a private university, was denied enrollment to med school.

After being interviewed, twice, she decided that if she could not join them, she’d teach them and got her PhD in Immunology from Georgetown.

She works with pre-med students advising them from what the curriculum for pre-med and medical school is like (med school because of her husband physician), to what the doctor community is like. Not entirely surprising, she’s not that complimentary to doctors as they can be harsh, unkind, and unthoughtful to anyone but their patients disrespecting anyone that does not carry M.D. at the end of their name.

So while she is called “Dr.” she is not caring for patients and her PhD does not equate to M.D.

Hope that helps.

there are medical affiliated areas where PhD’s do work with patients. Most prominently I think of Psychologists - most of whom are PhD’s

However the majority of direct patient care is by MD/DO types, including all direct medical prescribing.

I am currently finishing a PhD in psychology, but my program is not an accredited program with the ultimate goal of licensing. It is a research degree which is quite different from a licensing degree. Any license to practice most anything is obtained via your state department of licensing or professional standards, etc. I don’t know much about hematology but I seriously doubt any PhD would be able to practice without a specific state statute granting them practice privileges.

Also note that the university “salary” for teaching/research while you obtain a PhD is miserable, at less than $20K/yr here. I had to take a full time job outside the university to support myself and my family, as their meager remuneration was insufficient for real-world living expenses, despite the tuition remission. Further, keep in mind that funding can be dropped instantly if budget shortfalls occur. This happened to me at my last doctoral program. If, however, you have no family to support and can live cheaply on campus, it may be doable if you can forgo … well, most everything but the absolute basic necessities.

If you ultimate goal is to be a physician, I do not quite understand how a hematology PhD would be of much help. I’m finishing my psych PhD now, but it has little relevance to the premed track and I will be unable to substitute most of my earned credits for the med school prereqs.

I don’t mean to sound overly negative, but also keep in mind that, unless you have a VERY clear research agenda in a program with dedicated faculty, the PhD can easily take you 4-8 years even if you study full time. Again, if the ultimate goal is to be a licensed physician, I am not sure how spending all that time on a hematology PhD will be helpful. I wish I had seen the light years ago and had taken an M.A. and skipped the PhD. If I had, I would be applying to med school right about now, instead of just starting my post-bacc program.

I hope this summary is helpful, but feel free to offer a rebuttal. This is my second PhD program so I am well familiar with the process, benefits, and drawbacks. That said, I am not especially familiar with the biological sciences PhD programs.

An example of the licensing boards of which I was speaking for the state of NJ is listed here: