Is a PhD a Doctor? Demystifying Academic Titles

Ready to start your journey?

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.

Editorial Listing ShortCode:

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.

Editorial Listing ShortCode:

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.

Editorial Listing ShortCode:

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?”

Medical Doctor (MD) Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) Degree
  • Goal is to become a physician
  • Includes medical school and a residency
  • Can specialize in an area like pediatrics or cardiology
  • 4 years to complete plus a residency
  • Goal is to become a professor or a researcher
  • Includes coursework and a dissertation
  • Focuses on one field, such as mathematics or sociology
  • Often 5 to 7 years to complete

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.

Professional Doctorate Degrees PhD Degrees
  • Aim is to apply research and theories to your field
  • More focused on practical application
  • May include a dissertation or a capstone project
  • May lead to a specific job, such as psychologist or nurse practitioner
  • Aim is to generate new research or theories for your field
  • More focused on research and academic pursuits
  • Usually requires a dissertation
  • May lead to becoming a professor or researcher

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.

Ready to start your journey?
Joy is pursuing her Ph.D. in Public Policy & Foreign Policy at Liberty University and holds a Master of Business Administration in Strategic Management from Amberton University, as well as a Bachelor's in Business Administration from Columbia College. With over 20 years of experience navigating online degrees and courses, Joy's focus is helping non-traditional students find accelerated degree options and credit for prior learning opportunities.