Friday, February 16, 2007

PhD vs MD: difference? Elitism


I have a friend who is a resident who tells me often that I have an 'inferiority complex' when it comes to MD's. As a PhD in medical science, I am often struck by the difference between the disciplines. In my personal life, I've often heard the phrase 'not a real doctor' in relation to my PhD. I've even heard people insinuate that I may have pursued my PhD because I was unable to get into Medical School. Actually, I tell them, PhD's are the original 'doctors' and all MD's were once considered PhD's until it was determined that their knowledge (although considerable) was not equivalent to that awarded by a PhD (the highest degree that a university can grant). Thus the MD was born. And, I'm apt to tell them, I'm much happier working to cure disease than I am treating it.
So, I've done a lot of thought on what I feel the real difference is at a fundamental level. We need MD's as well as we need PhD's. Obviously. I couldn't do an MD's job and and a regular MD certainly couldn't do mine. So, why is the MD's job considered to be so much more important in the grand scheme of things? Why are their salaries so much higher, and their status within the community so revered? Personally, I think it's a form of elitism propagated at the Med School level.
Getting into Medical School is said to be a monumental task. There are very limited spots and sometimes the actual criteria that allows one person in and not another are fuzzy at best. In comparison, you need similar criteria to get into a PhD program, but the spots are not limited and in a lot of cases, they are increasing. Thus, those students who get into med school often feel as if they are somehow more accomplished than any other student in the university. This feeling of being better than everyone else definatly shows in more than a few of the med students I've encountered over the years. Needless to say, I've also met some wonderful, down to earth people who choose to go to Med school, some of them being my closest friends, but they are not the majority in my view.
Thus, although residency programs after med school are limited, by in large very few graduating MDs have to worry about getting a good, well paying job. I've not heard of MDs having to work in limbo waiting to get a position after they finish their residency, they often have choice. In contrast, graduating PhD's have their postdocs which are highly competitive and increasingly getting longer. Not all PhD's will get positions, and many of them simply do not get them, thus after an average of 10 years of education they have to find something else to do. I'm not saying this is right, but what it results in is only the brightest and best, most highly motivated and hardest working of the PhD's getting into faculty positions. I could go on and on about some of the criteria used to determine the best and brightest being skewed, but there are specific criteria and the mediocre researchers are weeded out. When you see an MD, chances are the last time he/she was 'weeded out' was when he/she was applying to med school. You don't have to be a good or even great MD to practice, you only have to have been a great undergraduate student according to criteria set out by med schools. Doing well in exams at the undergraduate level does not mean that you will be a good critical thinker, able to take complex diagnostic indicators to weed out a problem. It doesn't even mean that you will be able to communicate effectively with patients. No doubt the med school experience teaches these skills, but what of those who don't master them? The system is crying out for doctors, and they do not nessecarily get to pick and choose the best.
The system is set up so that MD's are in high demand. Thus, they get high wages, and more respect. Many MD's work for and deserve this respect. However, not all do. Maybe the system needs to change so that there are enough MD's out there such that the best and the brightest get the jobs and the quality of health care increases.
In the meantime, as with anyone, you will get my respect when you earn it, whatever letters follow your name.

97 comments:

Anonymous said...

There is one huge justification for pay disparity, responsibility. MDs are directly responsible for people's lives (and deaths). To society in the long term grand scheme of things the researchers probably are more important. However, the MDs have face to face one on one contact with the people who control the money and social prestige. Have you ever seen the story that begins with "then this wonderful PhD saved my mother's (wife's, daughter's, husband's, son's etc.) life?"

MDs get their degree after 4 yrs of medical school. The education continues before you can practice medicine. Residencies of 2 to 8 years follow medical school. Even after all that you still have to pass the board exams to be licensed, some are weeded out. No pass, no license, no practice. MDs are required to continue education while they practice. MDs must recertify every 7 years, to keep pace with breakthroughs and discoveries. Again no pass, no license, no practice, more are weeded out. To my knowledge PhDs only defend their thesis once. Then are allowed to continue "PhD'ing" as long as they want and once tenured are nigh unaccountable for their behavior. How many PhDs have you heard of being sued for malpractice?

Even in your own mind how would you rank philosophy and medicine in importance if you leave the doctor part off? PhDs also have dilution of social importance. Granted it takes much work and dedication to earn a doctorate in any field. A PhD in cellular biology, genetics, education, biochemistry, physics, economics, etc. has high importance in society. There are many people who would consider the same accomplishment in history, art, (any)______ studies, literature etc. not worthy of the same respect or pay.

PhDs I've met also run the range from down to earth to arrogant elitists. In the end it is more an issue of responsibility than elitism. Visibility also plays a small role. The general public just doesn't see the work PhDs do in as direct a way as that of MDs.

In response to your comment "I couldn't do an MD's job and and a regular MD certainly couldn't do mine." MDs certainly can do research and many do. But PhDs cannot practice medicine. Even a PhD in pharmacology cannot prescribe medication. Take a look at psychology; MDs can prescribe medication, PhDs cannot, but both can apply for grants and do research.

If social status and a large bank account are what you are after, MD may have been a better route for you (or both many schools have MD/PhD programs). Actually you could pursue a medical degree now and become an MD/PhD. Take the MCAT, IMO it is more difficult than the GRE (I have taken both) so prepare well, and apply. Sounds like you have time and your loans would return to deferred status. Or just take it and next time an MD jabs you compare scores. Get a great score (ie 35+) and stick it to them!

Shawn P

Anonymous said...

SP: PhDs aren't interested in practicing medicine but as I recall, 'witch doctors' and 'quacks' do practice it! While any child can do research, it takes years of training to do it in a learned manner. After all, children imagine all types of monsters as a result of their 'research'. Get a life.
zipzap.

Marianne said...

I agree with the last comment.

I take a lot of responsibility for my research, and recently research that I've participated in has been going into patients, in the form of clinical trials. No matter what you may see on TV shows like Grey's Anatomy, the clinical trials depend heavily on the researchers as well as clinicians. Trust me, if someone had a severe adverse effect after administering something we said was fine, the 'responsible' physician would have no problem scapegoating the researcher, and probably rightfully so.

I have received many requests and thanks from cancer patients who have gotten hope from reading about advances in the labs I've worked in. One day, I hope that this PhD will be involved in saving people's lives. I won't be there to collect the glory (or the pay), but there will be someone else there to do that. My purpose is to look for a cure, not be involved in treatment, and I'm perfectly ok with that.

Maybe you should read up a little on what it takes to be a researcher. You don't hear of many MD's who graduate and don't get a high paying job, but only 14% of graduating PhD's get faculty positions. The rest often practice outside the field they trained 10+ years in. Thus, those who do are the best of the best. That, my friend should be respected.

Anonymous said...

Both should be respected, however for those pre/med students who think med school is the hardest thing possible, try getting a PhD in theoretical physics. I bet 95% of them can't make it.

Anonymous said...

You are preaching to the choir. I’m working on a PhD in Materials Engineering with my specialty in biotechnology. My research is on improving the functional life of orthopedic and vascular implants and prosthesis. And I must confess I have a closet hatred of MD’s. I appreciate the work they do, saving patients and all but it kills me to see them getting all the glory and credit (and much higher salaries).
Some orthopedic surgeon performs a total hip arthroplasty using a device I have sunk years of work into, and who does the patient thank? The MD! I slave over a drug eluting , non-restenosing, cardiovascular stent, work it through FDA approval, and prove safety and efficacy. Some cardiologist making six times my salary (not kidding) puts is in a patient and is the hero for saving a life. We research engineers in biotech all get screwed. We make half, one third, of what an MD does, and they get all the credit using the tools we create. The radiologist can’t design a real time MRI, doesn’t know how to program the computer to render a 3-D image of a patient (GE’s new machine is incredible), but for $250,000/year he can look at a spot on computer screen and say “looks like a embolism.”
But that is not the worst part. I have been told by MD’s that a PhD “does not make you a real doctor,” I have seen MD’s not address my advisor or other engineering PhD’s as “Dr. So-and-so” but as “Mr. So-and-so” despite it saying PhD on a nametag, I was even asked one time “well if you’re smart enough to get into a PhD program why did you not try out for med school?” I love what I do, the research is fascinating; I have the soul of a scientist, I want to understand the natural forces around us, why the body reacts to certain elements the way it does, how the microstructure of an alloy strengthens it and causes tissue to adhere to it, that’s why I chose being a PhD over an MD. I don’t think it is asking too much for MD’s to recognize that they need the research that we do and for us to get the same respect and compensation. Whether you wrote the script for the drug or developed the drug you helped save a life and deserve the same credit.

Anonymous said...

To the above poster: You're sadly mistaken if you think the radiologist is only making $250,000 a year. The average salary for a diagnostic radiologist is more like $450,000.

Anonymous said...

As a PhD newcomer to the allied health world, I've found the disparity in knowledge between MDs and PhDs striking. I've met too many MDs and other clinicians who don't actually understand their own research and certainly don't understand research they read. They claim to be scientists but make basic errors concerning research methods, analyses, causal reasoning, etc.

After two years of this, I am seriously considering jumping back into my previous work in private business. In most ways, the research is less...less interesting, less meaningful. But the working environment is far better.

Good luck to those of you that remain. You have my respect, at least.

Anonymous said...

To be clear, the word 'Doctor' is the Latin word for 'Teacher', and so is more properly affixed to a PhD, unless anyone would argue that most medical doctors out there are primarily, and I emphasize 'primarily', interested in teaching their patients about health (not in this country!). Teachers generally don't seem to earn the respect of others, sometimes praise, but not pay or social status.

I have an MD, as well as a PhD in Microbiology, and I fail to see the gray area between the two mentioned by others.

PhDs are committed researchers, interested in developing new knowledge, progressing the state of the art. MDs are practitioners, who apply trusted skills and knowledge to help people as best they can. I felt my PhD was difficult for better reasons than was the MD.

Medical school was by no means easy, but all of us who were accepted were basically guaranteed to graduate (BU). There was a much higher degree of hand holding and structure providing direction. Whereas the amount of personal initiative it took to earn my PhD was simply incomparable, and with only ~48% graduation rate.

For an MD to tell a PhD that they are also a researcher, that's like someone changing the oil on their car and bragging about being a mechanic. I've never heard a PhD claim to directly treat patients(?).

Regarding the elitism, we all eat our own. Specialists snub general surgeons, who snub pediatricians, who snub general practice..the ranking is endless. For anyone who insists upon maintaining a 'my heini is holier than thou' approach to their professional relationships, you're best to keep it within one school of thought or the other.

Anonymous said...

Hi
PhDs definitely are the major force of change and improving life in all of its aspects. This is a fact known for centuries. Most of the great discoveries have been made by PhDs. If there was an amendment on the MD salaries to be controlled generally like those in the UK, I would bet that many people at least a third of the MD prospective students will leave their jobs. I am now currently in a good medical school and everyone around me at least indirectly convey the high salary and relatively job. But I also got accepted to Oxbridge to do my PhD in science and few months ago I preferred MD over Phd. After two semesters of MD., I am more inclined to go back to the PhD program. MDs over the last century established a culture of primarily medical research and some basic research but that all came thru the hard work and the establishement by the PhD body of scientists over decades. Finally, we need both, an MD like internist might save a life but does more treatments than saving life but still a great work. However, a scientist makes a discovery that saves millions of patients over decades to come. Ultimately is a team work, and people have to choice to choose what type of work they want. If it's mainly about money, I would argue that a good MBA or even a business degree with the right person will make much more money that all MDs. Most MDs make good upper money, much less make a million or more a year but ultimately there is gap. Money is not in medicine it's in business. Upper average money is in MD in general. That all for now and good luck to all. IT's never too late to follow your passion and not your fantasy.
John K

Anonymous said...

Okay, so I am a high school student who is very interested in psychology and is trying to decide whether to become a psychiatrist or a psychologist. I know that a major difference is that a psychologist cannot prescribe medication while a psychiatrist can, and I have learned from this that that is because of the whole MD/PhD thing, but that's about all. All silly competitions aside, does anyone know whether getting a PhD or and MD would be more pratical for me? Because, I've heard many different opinions and I just cannot decide. I'm very interested in the study of psychology and how people work and body language and how the brain functions (I've read The Road Less Travelled by a psychologist who's name escapes me at the moment, and various body language books), and that's all I'm mainly interested in right now, but I also very much want to help people and if that means medication, then I want to be able to that. I'm just not sure how to go about all this. Can anyone help? Is there a way I can get both MD and PhD? I know this may sound stupid and trivial to those who have already gone through this sort of thing, but please keep in mind, I'm just a sophomore in high school.

Anonymous said...

To the above poster:

Well, I'm hoping to go to med school and become a psychiatrist. I'm also a high school student.

From what I've learned from talking to psychiatrists, psychologists, and my studies in psychology, I'd have to say that in this day and age, you'll get more work as a psychiatrist. The modern world is fast-paced and result-oriented. Medications have become commonplace and are often the only things that insurance companies will shell money over for, because they're proven and don't take a long time.

Behavioral approaches might be covered sometimes but not too often. Psychoanalysis will virtually never be covered and, in my opinion, rightly so since it's all a bunch of unverified crap that people like to romanticize.

So, in the modern world, I'd say prescriptions are a pretty important part of the equation in the trade now. There are a few states and the U.S. Armed Forces that allow psychologists to prescribe medication. These, though, are the exceptions.

The bottom line, in my opinion, is that we both deserve equal amounts of respect. And generally, I think that everyone deserves an equal amount of respect. Our deservingness of respect lies not in the regard of our schools or the designation of our degrees, but in our intentions.

The two degrees are equal, in my opinion, with regards to what they say about a person. They're just completely different. It's like comparing apples to oranges. A Ph.D. just can't treat patients very effectively. M.D. research can be good or bad—it depends. But Ph.D.s in other subjects certainly have authority. And with regards to specific topics, M.D.s only have general knowledge of most of them. Both are needed, both save lives, and both are useful to society. Stop getting at each other's throats and respect one another as equals already! Just stop with the pretentious idiocy!

Anonymous said...

I was accepted to Georgetown, Northwestern, and Chicago for my MD. At the last minute, I took the GREs and was awarded full funding for my PhD in aerospace at Georgia Tech. My research focus is on defense issues with the goal of finishing my diss next year.

The funny thing is, I have offers from BAE, General Dynamics, and Lockhead at $250,000 starting; my friends from the program are making twice that with bonus.

I guess one can make more money designing weapons to kill people than slave as an MD to save people's lives.

Just a thought.

Anonymous said...

The justification for the pay disparity is that society simply has more respect for doctors than for PhDs (did I ruffle a feather already?)

Most of the public, particularly in the US, will not stand up and respect something unless it can be shown to be immediately useful, that too often in certain specified ways. For instance, no research is considered useful unless it "cures cancer". The public has a blind spot when it comes to discoveries in mathematics, physics, engineering, chemistry which are responsible for everything in the modern world; from nuclear power to plastic. Second, the talk of research being useless unless it cures cancer betrays a horrible misconception of scientific activity. Research is not like going on a treasure hunt, you discover more and more things about cancer and cells and how cancer works... until one of the facts that comes to light can be used against it.

Yes...there are many people who thank doctors for saving lives, but then there are others who swear by homeopathy. As such, it is a pity that doctors have picked up so much self esteem from the adulation of the public. I wonder if they have noticed that the public also believes in ghosts, in astrology, in homeopathy, in creationism. On any given day, Sylvia Browne receives a lot more "Thank yous" than any surgeon can hope to get. So does Peter Popoff for his "miracle spring water". I wonder how doctors feel about the shows on TV where hundreds of people are instantly "cured" of their ailments. Pretty impressive, huh?

Anonymous said...

MD's also are named as Health technicians, it's really difficult to get into a Med School, the guard, the responsibilities. PhD programs are also difficult to enter, and you have limited time to end the research, and if you don't finished it at time and your group don't have money to pay you you are at your own. So as a PhD I have to think in all this.
At the end Univ. positions are really difficult to get, but if you want, you also can quit research and go to industry or make a MBA, there is more money there.

Anonymous said...

Without Ph.D.'s, there would be no M.D.'s. Think about it: who would impart undergraduate degrees upon them?

Anonymous said...

Over the years, I have gotten into many arguments of the following nature: Are physics courses harder than biology courses? How well would a history major do in engineering and vice versa? and is a MD harder than a PhD? I'm now in my 4th year of my PhD program at UC Berkeley, and I currently think that in the grand scheme of things, I should just focus strictly on my research and hopefully add some useful knowledge to the world. This is not to say that we shouldn't entertain ourselves my doing something completely outside our narrow fields once in a while. Learning, after all, is a good thing. Last fall semester, I made this bet with a lab-mate who already has an MD (Harvard). I have never taken a biology course in my life, and he has never taken an engineering course. The bet was for me to take an upper division MCB (molecular and cell biology) course and him to take an upper division EE (electrical engineering) course and see who lasts longer with the understanding that we were allowed to help each other. The courses were taken for credit. Around the 5th week of class, I started noticing that my MD lab-mate didn't asked me for help anymore. I finally asked him how the EE class was going after another week or so and he admitted that he was falling too far behind and had to drop the course and was procrastinating to tell our advisor. At the same time, I was really struggling in my MCB class since I didn't take any of its prerequisites and reading all that biochem and genetics crap was really boring for a mechanical engineer like me. I ended up finishing the class with a B so I won the bet. The bet was stupid but I don't regret doing it because I did learn a lot and now appreciate Berkeley's MCB program to be top notch. As for PhD vs MD? Well, who won? :)

Anonymous said...

I believe one of the above posters hit the nail on the proverbial head when he/she basically stated that Americans hold no value for that which they perceive to be impractical.

As a Doctor of Musical Arts, I find it hard to stomach that the ongoing education that must be pursued by M.D. recipients warrants any extra self-righteousness on their part.

Despite my having been awarded degrees from outstanding institutions in my field (CCM, USC) that allow me a career path in education and/or research, I am pursuing a (so far successful) career as a performing musician. In order to do so I devote a minimum of 3 hours/day, and an average of 5, to practice. I have been practicing this much since high school, and had been practicing long before that. So the notion that anyone should receive any additional monetary or verbal reward for his or her efforts simply because he or she is dedicated to his or her field is a ridiculous one. I've met some very dedicated lawn-mowers.

Having invalidated that theory, it becomes obvious to me that the reason I'm not raking in money after having devoted so much of my time to the pursuit of education is that our very pragmatic society doesn't have any value for art, which it considers impractical.

Similarly, the value of a research occupation is vastly understated when compared to that of an applied occupation. Americans value hands-on practicality.

The good news, however, is that if you want a more level playing field, you can go to Europe!

Anonymous said...

I can't believe a high school student now finds the nerve to refer to himself as a doctor before even making it to, let alone through, college. That is the 80% majority we have to deal with while explaining people how hard scientists work. Then again, if you are seeking recognition and the so-called "glory" in life, you are much better off devoting your time and efforts to entrepreneurship/bussiness and making a ton of money. After all is said and done, that 80% respect one thing the most: money. You can do a LOT of good with money, too, so let's shove all anti-egoism arguments aside.

Darn it, all that matters in life is what YOU enjoy doing. Is that doing research? Do that. Is that looking after people? Do that. Is that making money and buying toys? Do that. You've only got one life to live and it's such a waste to spend it freaking out about how much people respect what you do.

Anonymous said...

MDs don't have to come up with an original thought, research it, and then defend it.

Are they adding to the knowledge base? Maybe when they go into research mode. But then it is for a specific case.

Furthermore, like lawyers, they follow a curriculum that leads them to a degree without the thesis.

The MD is a professional doctorate like many others. In the grand scheme, the PhD will always remain the top dog.

Mark said...

I have my PhD in Civil Engineering. I would never ever introduce myself as a doctor. I introduce myself as a civil engineer.

The right way of looking at things is by saying "I'm a scientist." or "I'm an engineer." or "I'm a surgeon." "Or I'm a physician." or "I'm an endocrinologist" or "I'm a cardiologist." Not "I'm a doctor and the other person isn't really."

The term Doctor is Latin in origin and means "teacher" as others have indicated. This is someone in society who instructs others on the basis of the knowledge that they have acquired. Because a medical doctor has extensive knowledge of the human body and of medicine, I give him the authority to instruct me in how to care for my body.

Likewise, because I have extensive knowledge of structural engineering and optimization, I am able to instruct others in this area.

So is one greater than the other? No. Take a civil engineer out of society and the hospital building will never be built. The power will never be supplied. The water will never be treated. The roads that get ambulances to the hospital will never be built. Doctors would have no way to practice.

But physicians are also very important. They treat illness and injuries. They save lives. We need them in our society.

So when you look at it, an MD is a leader of the medical profession. A PhD is a leader of the engineering profession. We both do work that is noble and important in society. We're both extremely well paid professions. And we are both real doctors.

Of course, someone on one side of the MD/PhD divide can make quick friends by referring to someone on the other side as a "real" doctor.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Mark,

I agree. Both are leaders in their respective professions.

With a PhD in CE, at the end you had to create an original thought and then defend it in your thesis...adding to the knowledge base in CE.

The MD does not do that. They follow a set schedule and are awarded the doctorate degree at the end.

But part of the problem could also be with society as we refer to medical doctors as "doctor" and PhDs as professor.

A woman is introduced to a man as Dr. Smith.

After talking a few minutes, she asks, "I have this pain..."

Dr. Smith says, "I am not that type of doctor. I am a Doctor of Economics".

She then says, "Oh! Well, tell me, should I sell my IBM stock?"

Beans said...

Hi,
I am a PhD in pharmacology-pharmacy. I am interested in doing a MD course that is designed for paramedic/biomedical PhDs. I'll be happy to see suggestions.
Thanks

பனங்காட்டான் said...

Throught provoking debates. Nice

பனங்காட்டான் said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Not sure how I stumbled upon this interesting debate but here's my two cents. I too have developed a closet hatred for MDs; perhaps stemmed from the many mixed seminars/classes/conferences I attended during my education as a lowly PhD in Public Health / Occupational Health Sciences. No disrespect to their profession, most of them are wonderful people but more often than not, I came to the conclusion that their knowledge and expertise is very focused, sometimes missing the bigger picture when it comes to patient care. Case in point: occupational medicine clinics. Physicians successfully treat a medical condition but are often ignorant to the exposure that caused it, the disease epidemiology and educating the patient on how to avoid worsening their respective medical conditions. I've seen one too many cases of lead poisoning to the point of neuro-behavioral effects in adults, and the physician not connecting the exposure to the profession as policeman.

Anyways, you do not have to be a physician to have a great impact on people's lives. People may never know your name, you may never get the respect or the money, but then again that is irrelevant. I will be joining the feds/OSHA at the beginning of 2010, recruited for what I feel is my strong training in Toxicology/Risk Assessment. Perhaps in an idealistic manner, I do hope to one day save/protect people's lives - not at bed side - but by some policy decision that younger workers in United States would take for granted while the older ones would comment that such rules were long overdue.

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Anonymous said...

Ask Einstein, Galileo, Newton, or even Hubble if they would have rather been MDs. What would MDs be without Sir A. Fleming? Did you know The first Nobel Prize in Medicine was not awarded until 1901six years after all the other disciplines. I'm not discrediting MDs here. But I think they are overrated and their work good, but not better than that of Phds.

Anonymous said...

As a PhD myself, I have developed a strategy for dealing with rich MDs and society in general. JUST TAKE A DIVE! Don't argue with the rich. You wont win.

American society is anti-intellectual in general. Educated people are accused of being "snooty". PhDs are the worst victim of this, because they are highly educated, but also happen to be poor and hence easy targets. MDs are highly educated but they are super rich. No one argues with money.

Do what I do. In most social settings, I pretend to be the dumbest idiot around. People are going to screw me over anyway... my math PhD wont earn me half as much salary as a senior accountant, a starting MBA or starting doctor. Money talks. I have discovered that if you appear to be an idiot, you not only make it easier on yourself to be treated like dirt, but you also rob the arrogant others of some of the joy of insulting you. That rich MD gets a kick out of spitting on your face. Dive down and wag your tail. The MD will back out.

Just remember that your average MD is like Eric Cartman. He doesn't get a kick out of it unless you feel hurt and angry. You have no way of competing with the MD's billions. The least you could do is deny him 1 smile less.

Anonymous said...

Ah, the land of the free!
You have the right to free speech as long as you speak English.
---
best regards, Greg

Anonymous said...

?Que?

Anonymous said...

There were some high school students talking about Psychology v. Psychiatry... lets be honest here... you want to do Behavioral Neuroscience or some sort of Neuroendocrinology...

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 2 ( I am another Anonymous)

I have few time, so will make my comment short.
I am a Doktor rerum naturalis (Dr rer nat) granted from an old european university.
I have the legal right to call myself Doktor in verbal and written communication in my country. It is written even in my passport because the title becomes part of my name. In certain legal situations I even have to write Dr together with the rest of my name, otherwise omiting the full name is illegal.

A Dr rer nat is equivalent to an anglo-american PhD, although by reading this forum have noticed that the prestige of Doktoral scientists is higher in my country.

Why is a PhD seen as less worthy than an MD in anglo-america?
Certainly there are too many PhDs compared with MDs. PhD students are often coming from developing countries such as china and india, the english language is attractive for immigration, everybody in the world learns english at a young age. Europe in contrast is a bit more protected by natural language barriers. The availability of a large cheap workforce lowers fellowships and later salaries.
There is no common accepted standard to obtain a PhD. Some US or UK third tier universities should not be allowed to grant PhDs.
For MDs there is a common standard to pass, it does not matter somebody graduates in Harvard or in Michigan.
Whether the amount of PhD holders should be regulated as the MD is a difficult question. PhDs are very important for society.
However, the standard must be elevated, otherwise the best and brightest will go for an MD, the little less bright go for pharmacy school and the even more less bright go for an MBA. Only the fools would be left for a PhD.

The amrican taxpayer would have to pay PhD fellowships for chinese and indian students who later return to their homecountries supporting a competing industry, because jobs and funding got scarce in science recently, not only at universities.
In fact, PhD students are seen as cheap workforce by many universities. In combination with the open immigration system universities can churn out new PhDs in masses.

There are definitive too many PhD holders graduating from lower tier universities in the US,

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 2

Today I have a bit more time.

There is another major difference between MD and PhD have not mentioned yesterday, but it goes to the core of the discussions subject.

MDs as professional degree holders belong to an union, in most countries a rather strong union, especially in the US the AMA is very strong. In direct or indirect ways the MD unions keep the number of degree holders low and consequently the demand high. Furthermore, they restrict the influence of allied health care professionals such as pharmacists and nurses. Such a union is representing the profession and preserves their common interests.

PhD holders do not belong to a union as such. Scientists are more heterogenous due to specialization and there is no defined profession.
There is nobody who represents the common interests of scientists.

The mass media asks company CEOs or university officials for their opinion on the science profession. What is the main common message?
"We have too few scientists, too few americans are interested in a career in STEM, we need to remove the cap on H1B visum holders....".
Companies want scientists cheap, so they have a natural interests keeping the number of degree holders high, allowing them to be more picky. Universities want a cheap lab force too, consisting of PhD students and later postdocs.
There is nobody who really represents the interests of scientists.

There is a cultural difference between the US and my country. People are not judged immediatelly by their income and the differences in income are not as high as in the US due to high income taxes. This makes a profession with lower income but high prestige (Doktor) and personal interest more attractive.

However, there is a tendency that income and professional security are becoming more important in young people (around the age of 25).
What worries me is the fact also in my country more and more young people just look for income and job security and thereby avoiding science. MDs, dentists, pharmacists and maybe JDs provide higher and more secure jobs. Also such jobs are protected from immigrants and from offshoring to developing countries. The lack of scientists or better the lack of good scientists will have consequences in the future.

Science is important for society and it needs the best and brightest people. The level to obtain a PhD must be elevated at the entrance and quality control at the end should ensure that everybody deserves its grade. If 50% in a program would fail to abtain a PhD because they did not reach the quality, it would be acceptable for me.
Also salary or fellowhips for PhD students should be elevated drastically. This would guarantee that assistant professors dont exploit PhD students as cheap work force, hiring masses of them which leads to a PhD mill. In fact, in some european countries PhD students receive real salaries with health insurance and social security, although salary is low.

I see such a solution as the only way to get bright people back to science.

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supriya said...

I cant believe u guys are even arguing over this ! Each subject has its own importance..none superior than the other. U cannot have one without the other. U cannot compare the amount or the type of work put in by either of them. PhDs are needed to find solutions and MDs to apply this knowledge. This debate seems to stem more from the fact about who earns more than the other.. it seems all comes down to money and pride?? Perhaps respect for diversity and looking at the larger picture is more important.

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Anonymous said...

Look at the type of people who win the nobel prize in medicine or physiology. They are mostly PhDs.... not MDs..... not to mention those PhDs that also win nobel prizes in chemistry. Arguably, the nobel prize is a symbol for the greatest achievements that anyone could make.

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Robert said...

I just read your post. I really see that PhD's should look down on M.D.'s. The reason is because M.D.'s are nothing without our research. All they do is read paper's and memorize them. They have no real creative brain power and are rather just "technicians" that apply what has already been discovered. I believe that both PhD and M.D. are very important but that M.D.'s may or may not lack the intelligence it takes to develop research.

HeatherNReading said...

Hey Shawn P, thanks for demonstrating that good old M.D. elitism. Good one. Oh and the PhD who saved lives? Try googling "Nobel Prize". It might help you find your way out of your pompous ass.

Heading to Hades said...

Case in point. The "PhD"ers in this comment stem keep on mentioning how much research they have done, and that very few MDs have won Nobel prizes.

Well I went back to the Nobel list on nobel.org and looked up every winner of the Medicine and Physiology prize. The list below has every one I found who completed a medical degree (European,US, UK/Commonwealth, Canadian).


MDs or Medical Doctors awarded Nobel Prize:

1. Emil Adolf von Behring (the first Nobel in Medicine or Physiology)
2. Ronald Ross
3. Niels Ryberg Finsen
4. Robert Koch (of Koch’s postulates)
5. Camillo Golgi (of Golgi apparatus and Golgi receptor)
6. Charles Louise Alphonse Laveran
7. Emil Theodore Kocher
8. Albrecht Kossel
9. Allvar Gullstrand
10. Alexis Carrel
11. Robert Barany
12. Otto Fritz Meyerhof
13. Frederick Grant Banting (insulin)
14. Charles Herbert Best (insuin)
15. John James Rickard Mcleod
16. William Einthoven (EKGs)
17. Johannes Andreas Grib Fibiger
18. Julius Wagner-Jauregg
19. Christiaan Eijkman
20. Karl Landsteiner (of the Landsteiner series)
21. Otto Heinrich Warburg (many contributions to cellular metabolism)
22. Gerhard Johannes Paul Domagk
23. Bernado Houssay
24. Walter Rudolf Hess
25. António Egas Moniz
26. Philip Showalter Hench
27. Hans Adolf Krebs (yes, of the Krebs Cycle)
28. Arthur Kornberg (DNA polymerase anyone?)
29. Frederick Chapman Robbins
30. Thomas Huckle Wellers
31. Alexander Fleming
32. Howard Florey
33. George Minot
34. George Whipple
35. William Murphy
36. Frank MacFarlane Burnet
37. André Frédéric Cournand
38. Werner Forssmann
39. Dickinson W. Richards
40. Francis Peyton Rous
41. Charles Brenton Huggins
42. Gerald Edelman
43. Baruch Samuel Blumberg
44. Daniel Carleton Gajdusek (very infamous!)
45. Roger Guillemin
46. Andrzej "Andrew" Viktor Schally
47. Daniel Nathans (restriction enzymes type II)
48. Hamilton O. Smith (restriction enzymes type II)
49. Baruj Benacerraf
50. Torsten Wiesel
51. Michael Stuart Brown
52. Joseph L. Goldstein
53. James W. Black
54. J. Michael Bishop (was UCSF chancellor)
55. Harold Elliot Varmus (NIH chief)
56. Joseph Murray (transplants)
57. E. Donnall Thomas
58. Edwin G. Krebs
59. Alfred G. Gilman (MD/PhD)
60. Stanley B. Prusiner (prions!!)
61. Ferid Murad (MD/PhD)
62. Arvid Carlsson (MD/PhD)
63. Eric Kandel
64. Barry James Marshal (actually swallowed H. Pylori to prove his thesis in the name of science!)
65. John Robin Warren
66. Harald zur Hausen

Some very big names in science. So please, realize that MDs actually started research in biomedical specialties. It wasn't really until after WWII with the advent of moelcular biology that the Nobels were being awarded to PhDs more.

Lastly, the Medical doctor as a degree has been around a long time. The modern PhD in the U.S. was first awarded in 1861 at Yale. The medical degree was awarded at University of Pennsylvania since 1765. So the modern MD degree pre-dates the modern PhD.

A lot of the basic biological research came from studying medical diseases described and studied by MDs. Edward Jenner, Robert Koch, and Joseph Lister are just a few. Even Hermann von Helmholtz was a physician! Yes all you physical chemists - Helmholtz free energy came from a phsyician.

So let it go. MD or PhD, you have a very talented, educated person pursuing a wonderful goal. MDs receive more money because they provide a direct service. And those MDs who do research often take a good pay cut (believe me, I'm one of them).

I, for one, do believe that certain PhDs (hard sciences) should receive higher salaries. But for now, a lot of my biotech friends have been making 80K-100K per year - that's not bad.

Cheers.
R

mujtaba said...

I am a medical student, which means I will be getting an MD. As a physician, I will (hopefully) have job security... but with a PhD, I feel that I wouldnt have that.

I feel that those who have PhDs in the sciences are more intelligent than MDs, just in my opinion. Many of the things that PhDs do are AMAZING. They are finding breakthroughs in medicine every year, while most MDs just implement the findings of the PhDs in the clinic.

Also, about the salary... I know a handful of PhD-only people who do research and get paid a 7 figure salary, before taxes. Most doctors will make around $250,000 before taxes in my experience (after specialization and years of training). I feel that PhDs should be more respected than MDs (or at least more than they are now), because of the things they accomplish.

Bright said...

All MDs were taught by PHDs in order to become a MD, you must cross the path of a PHD so without a Phd there could be no MD.. so thats that Court is adjourned

Bright said...

oh and another thing.... PhDs are responsibly for 99.9% of the cures and breakthrough medications. Treatments and Medications are researched and tested first by PhDs.... So Although your MD may presribe the Meds, he/she is only able to do so because of the hard work of a PhD...
Thanks
Dr. Angelica Thompson PhD
BS..BioChemical Engineering
MS...NeuroEngineering
PhD... NeuroBiology

Nathaniel said...

Perhaps we should consider the debate in another way than previously addressed. A PhD student, say in Philosophy, may give a person a reason to live through hope or something akin to that. Whilst, on the other hand, an MD may give a person their life to live. See the difference? It is complicated and so very subjective.

dkav said...

I am having a big dilemma whether to get an md or do research, money is a factor, however I love research and taking life apart piece by piece and I read science weekly along with all the other science magazines. Can scientists still be all around successful and enjoy the pleasures of life and have kids and spend time with them? Someone help!

zhenteng said...

I am a medical student. I graduated from an elite university with degrees in engineering, finance, and economics. I have to say Med School is definitely probably the easiest discipline I have ever encountered so far. It sometimes annoys me when my colleagues seem to be so full of themselves and having the know it all kind of attitude. Medicine is really no rocket science. Most people in the street will probably understand medicine as well as an MD if they are willing to learn about it. Frankly, most of med school colleagues are really not that smart; certainly most of them have an impressive memorization capability, but that's not the same thing as being intelligent. Ironically, most of my friends with Bachelor's degrees working for investment banks are probably the brightest I know.
My point is academic degrees don't mean anything if you are not trying to be a productive member of the community. Instead of wondering whether MD or PhD is more prestigious we should really focus on make good use of our degrees for the sake of humanity.

callaghan24 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rob said...

While I was studying for my PhD in Engineering a friend in the same group was dating, and later married, a girl who was training to be an MD. He told me that he was amazed at the amount of memorizing that she had to do. Mostly disease symptoms and appropriate treatments, I think. This contrasted drastically with our PhDs which involved virtually no memorizing at all, but mostly thinking, experimenting, and problem solving.

Several years later I became quite ill and eventually saw upwards of 20 MDs. What I saw was that most doctors operate mostly as classifiers. Their job is to ask questions, examine, and perform tests to enable them to put the patient into an existing disease category and then prescribe the accepted treatment. I likened the whole process to the toy for infants where the baby has to put the round shape through the round hole, the square shape through the square hole, and so on. The problem was that my symptoms didn't fit into any existing hole. What followed at that point varied from doctor to doctor, but in many cases it was essentially to keep bashing the new shape at one of the existing holes despite the fact that it clearly wasn't fitting. There seemed to be no ability in most of them to think beyond the simple classification paradigm. There was no sleuthing, no speculation, no consultation of the literature. In short, no research... and, it seemed to me, no real ability to think.

So don't begrudge the MDs their higher salaries and higher status in the public's eyes. The fact is that most of them have a boring, repetitive job, pushing shapes through holes, and they only get to do that after years spent memorizing reams of boring data.

We PhDs get to think, invent and create. Fantastic!

Rob said...

While I was studying for my PhD in Engineering a friend in the same group was dating, and later married, a girl who was training to be an MD. He told me that he was amazed at the amount of memorizing that she had to do. Mostly disease symptoms and appropriate treatments, I think. This contrasted drastically with our PhDs which involved virtually no memorizing at all, but mostly thinking, experimenting, and problem solving.

Several years later I became quite ill and eventually saw upwards of 20 MDs. What I saw was that most doctors operate mostly as classifiers. Their job is to ask questions, examine, and perform tests to enable them to put the patient into an existing disease category and then prescribe the accepted treatment. I likened the whole process to the toy for infants where the baby has to put the round shape through the round hole, the square shape through the square hole, and so on. The problem was that my symptoms didn't fit into any existing hole. What followed at that point varied from doctor to doctor, but in many cases it was essentially to keep bashing the new shape at one of the existing holes despite the fact that it clearly wasn't fitting. There seemed to be no ability in most of them to think beyond the simple classification paradigm. There was no sleuthing, no speculation, no consultation of the literature. In short, no research... and, it seemed to me, no real ability to think.

So don't begrudge the MDs their higher salaries and higher status in the public's eyes. The fact is that most of them have a boring, repetitive job, pushing shapes through holes, and they only get to do that after years spent memorizing reams of boring data.

We PhDs get to think, invent and create. Fantastic!

dan said...

This is one of the stupidest articles I have ever read. Seriously??? after seeing what an absolute disaster having a 10:1 postdoc to permanent job ratio has done to life science PhD job market : you would suggest that MDs also produce way more trainees than positions.
I am a highly successful PhD student currently starting over and applying to medical school, so that in the future I can have a middle class wage and job security performing a service that is directly relevant and valuable.
This "selection of the best and brightest" process that academics speak of actually selects against the most intelligent people, who all leave after their PhD to pursue something more lucrative and less risky.

Tootie said...

You just wrote an article announcing how intelligent you are. I have a BA in communications. You spelled "definitely" incorrectly. Spell check is HUGE.

Omar said...

Getting a PhD is the biggest scam there is. You don't realize how deep you are in the hole until it's too late. There is simply no security for a PhD vs an MD.

Why would I bust my hump 60 hrs/week, earning less than minimum wage, when I can earn, literally, 20 times that amount working the same hours? It simply makes no sense. I'm glad I woke up to the absolute scam that is the PhD and switched to medicine.

Jessie said...

Just to solicit your thoughts about classism and where the power lies in the healthcare system.

What do you think MDs' perceptions of a nurse with a PhD in nursing,health sciences, public health,or any field in basic sciences? Do you think MDs will think that his/her PhD RN colleague has similar or above intellectual capacity as theirs?
Side note: The AMA is unhappy about nurse practitioners are now being prepared at a doctoral level (ie, DNP-doctor of nursing practice). I'm sure the debate of honorific entitlement in which MDs (and society) presumed to exclusively bestowed upon them will continue, and I think will get worst. Hospitals and clinics will certainly not a boring place to work with PhD RNs and DNPs around MDs!

M Italiano said...

The PhD is the highest degree in the US. The highest degrees are awarded last at graduation and is for those with the PhD. In the UK, the higher doctorates (eg., DSc) are higher than the PhD. A physician in most countries is at the diploma or bachelor's level (eg., MBBS, MB BCh). A doctorate requires contribution of new knowledge to a discipline and its defense. That is not required for a physician's degree. A space science PhD can be expected to make at least that of any MD. PhD psychologists can give certain psychol. tests that won't even be sold to MDs by the testing company and MDs are not able to diagnose learning disabilites whereas PhD psychologists may. Cops & Firemen save lives also but unlike MDs they also risk their lives. Should they be paid most?

Anonymous said...

Who are the "real" doctors? The PhDs.

In fact, the PhD is a higher degree than the MD according to explicit statements from both the U.S. Department of Education and the European Research Council. So, if the public thinks that the MD is a higher degree, that's wrong. I quote first from the U.S. Department of Education:

"...The research doctorate, or the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) and its equivalent titles, represents the highest academic qualification in the U.S. education system"

In fact, the M.D. is not on this list of equivalent degrees, but rather on the list of "first-professional degrees." About these degrees, the U.S. Department of Education states:

"...Several of these degrees use the term “doctor” in the title, but these degrees do not contain an independent research component or require a dissertation (thesis) and should not be confused with PhD degrees or other research doctorates."

http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ous/international/usnei/us/edlite-structure-us.html

For Europe, it's the same deal, as shown at this link:

http://www.google.be/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=3&ved=0CDUQFjAC&url=http%3A%2F%2Ferc.europa.eu%2Findex.cfm%3Ffuseaction%3Dhome.FILMDownload%26fileId%3D24&rct=j&q=ed.gov%20degrees%20equivalent%20to%20phd&ei=IPZpTuiEMMWBOtD4hckF&usg=AFQjCNEQ5IMn90yF_bjNQ2K9XMUDVMgTbw&sig2=i2P-T96Qo5aqovjDSx0YlA&cad=rja

Who are the "real" doctors? The PhDs.

Unknown said...

PhDs have no responsibilities other than research. MDs have far more responsibilities in the eyes of the state.

Secondly, who cares what the Department of Education says when everyone says "oh, a phd, not a real doctor". The fact is that outside of a very small circle of people, no one really respects the PhD like they do MDs. Finally, the biggest indicator of how much more valued MDs are than PhDs is the entrance to either degree program. Getting into a low ranked medical school is at least 10 times harder than getting into a top 10 PhD program. There's simply no comparison.

Bottom line, PhDs aren't real doctors in the colloquial sense of the word.

Anonymous said...

Whoever left the last comment doesn't make a strong case. All the claims are left completely unsupported, such as the one that MDs "have more responsibilities" than PhDs.

Such unsupported claims really have no place in any kind of reasonable discussion.

So, the explicit statements of the U.S. Department of Education still stand: although both degrees are doctorates, the PhD is at a higher level of education than the MD.

Who are the "real" doctors? The PhDs.

Unknown said...

What I think that other commenter meant was that an MD/DO has to be responsible for patient care while a PhD is only responsible for their bench work/grant writing. Those two aren't even close to being comparable which is why MDs need malpractice insurance in the 100,00s of dollars while a PhD doesn't need any professional insurance whatsoever.

Secondly, society places a far higher burden on an MD/DO to ensure that his trade does not harm others. Witness the several licensing exams and long, mandatory training process every MD/DO has to go through in order to practice by themselves. In contrast, a PhD, theoretically, could being "practicing" as soon as they wanted to. They could even "practice" before becoming a PhD, while practicing medicine without a medical license is a felony.

Anonymous said...

The last comment tries to show that MDs have more responsibilities than PhDs, in that MDs are responsible for patients whereas PhDs are responsible for research. Backing this claim is that there is higher monetary risk in patient care, but how does monetary risk translate directly into more responsibility? Answer: it doesn't. Monetary responsibility is not the only kind of responsibility, and it does not make one "more of a doctor" or more important than someone else. The previous commenter compares patient care to obtaining grants and makes it sound comparatively simple for a PhD to maintain grant funding. Well it's not so simple, and neither is research. Proposal writing for grants is a process where one has to be creative, both broadly and acutely knowledgeable, and competitive. One needs these same traits to subsequently carry out the research. It's true that MDs can do research too, but PhDs have more training than MDs in how to do research.

However, not all MDs practice medicine or do research and some instead become writers. Same thing with PhDs that have left research to become entrepreneurs, for example. So, the argument here is not about how important someone becomes to society after gaining a degree, as the eventual importance or level of responsibility cannot be directly determined by which degree one has. In this case, one can only evaluate the degrees themselves. According to the U.S. Department of Education and other similar sources throughout the world, the PhD is a higher level of education than the MD. Thus, for MDs to look down on PhDs is just backwards. As a PhD, I do not look down on MDs at all, but it does annoy me when MDs try to show that they are more important than PhDs - they're not.

Who are the "real" doctors? The PhDs.

Shannon Coates Flagg said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

To those saying PhD's do not have responsibilities outside of research -- have you ever heard of a clinical PhD? For example, a clinical psychologist? They do carry insurance, and do have to jump through many regulatory hoops as do MD's. In a few states, they can prescribe psychotropics. The clinical psychologist dealing with a suicidal patient can have every bit as much responsibility as a physician in certain medical fields and practices. So, yes, PhD's can be responsible for patients. By the way, this MD versus PhD thing is just an adult version of girl versus boy, or any other example of juvenile, binomial thinking (e.g., republican versus democrat; us versus them; less filling versus tastes great).

Smarty said...

Most if not all PhDs in math, physics or stats can get a MD if they want to but I bet most MDs would drop out after one quarter in most math, stats, or physics programs. Yes the smartest people are in math, physics and stats!!!

Ahmed90 said...

I am a medical school graduate but not from US. my degree is MBBS which is equivalent to MD in US. I was one of the top 5 students in my class. After completing my Internship I found that clinical work doesn't fit with me. I am a kind of person who like critical thinking and analysing systems; I found that clinical work consumes a lot of effort and energy with minimum satisfaction to my intellectual desires. I spend a lot of time in communication with scared patients to calm them and to deal with angry parents (although it is a great and crucial task)but that exhaust me to death and make me bored.
Furthermore, I found my self bound with a lot of guidelines and protocols that you have to follow, other wise you will find your self in a lot of troubles with your seniors, or even with the law if something wrong went with any patient.
Another concern that I suffered from the lack of critical thinking and creativity that most (not all) of my MD colleges have; of course not because they are of lower IQ, But because of the pattern that we learned from medical school; just to follow rules and protocols to save your ass.
So I took a decision to shift to basic medical research (which BTW is underestimated by public and even MDs); so I am starting my PhD in medical virology. Although I know it will be less awarding financially and socially, But it will satisfy my mental needs and will give me acceptable chance to enjoy my life as normal human being who can enjoy his week end without being scared of hearing his bleep ringing at any moment!!!!!

By the end my opinion as an (MD) person, I think being successful MD is far easier than in PhDs. An average MD can be outstanding physician if he is hard worker with excellent communication skills. But being outstanding scientists need more mental abilities than needed for physician careers.
Regarding the wages, I think physicians really deserve to be the highest paid personnel ever. They consume a lot of mental and physical energy in stressful working conditions. They don't have enough time to sleep or be with their families, So they deserve the money and the respect.

Subasit said...

MD & PhD are both equivalent doctoral degrees, since average PhD takes 4 years after taking GRE instead of MCAT for MD. During the 4 years, MD student works & studies upwards of 80-100 hrs a week, taking several exams and 4 expensive board exams before completing MD, while being earning average of $200k debt. PhD students work & study 50-60 hrs a week, mostly while on stipend and NO debt!

I am training to be an interventional cardiologist. So let's do the math. Post MD (which is equvalent to post doctoral positions) 8 years of training @ 80 hrs/ week work earning $25/hour. This workhour does not include 15-20 hrs I spend every week for clinical research, which has lead to publications in journals of much higher impact factor as any middle tier university PhD associate professor. After 3 year of post doc training on PhD route I could have been an associate professor earning 4 times an hour pay for 50 hr work week.

After graduating I will be a clinical researcher, writing grants for national institute of health, which my PhD colleagues would agree is not exactly a cake walk for them. So I will be working 60-70 hrs clinical & teaching week and 20 hrs research week, still working close to 90-100 hrs a week for $200K salary, being academic cardiologist. Those of my colleagues who will not go researcher route will work 90-100 hrs clinical weeks earning $350k.

So after 8 years of overworked and underpaid post doc training, I will be making as much PER HOUR as my PhD brethern, while being in $200k debt and another $400k behind them (50k difference in pay for 8 years compared to PhD colleague). I have to take board exams several thousands dollars in fees and recertification exams every 10 years and continuing medical educations every year. Working long hours actually saving lives besides publishing real research in high impact journals.

ALL FOR THE LOVE OF WHAT I DO...which I would never swap going 12 years back when I could have taken that GRE! So I have no qualms about not being recognized by my PhD colleagues.

Subasit said...

MD & PhD are both equivalent doctoral degrees, since average PhD takes 4 years after taking GRE instead of MCAT for MD. During the 4 years, MD student works & studies upwards of 80-100 hrs a week, taking several exams and 4 expensive board exams before completing MD, while being earning average of $200k debt. PhD students work & study 50-60 hrs a week, mostly while on stipend and NO debt!

I am training to be an interventional cardiologist. So let's do the math. Post MD (which is equvalent to post doctoral positions) 8 years of training @ 80 hrs/ week work earning $25/hour. This workhour does not include 15-20 hrs I spend every week for clinical research, which has lead to publications in journals of much higher impact factor as any middle-upper tier university PhD associate professor. After 3 year of post doc training on PhD route I could have been an associate professor earning 4 times an hour pay for 50 hr work week.

After graduating I will be a clinical researcher, writing grants for national institute of health, which my PhD colleagues would agree is not exactly a cake walk for them. So I will be working 60-70 hrs clinical & teaching week and 20 hrs research week, still working close to 90-100 hrs a week for $200K salary, being academic cardiologist. Those of my colleagues who will not go researcher route will work 90-100 hrs clinical weeks earning $350k.

So after 8 years of overworked and underpaid post doc training, I will be making as much PER HOUR as my PhD brethern, while being in $200k debt and another $400k behind them (50k difference in pay for 8 years compared to PhD colleague). I have to take board exams several thousands dollars in fees and recertification exams every 10 years and continuing medical educations every year. Working long hours actually saving lives besides publishing real research in high impact journals.

ALL FOR THE LOVE OF WHAT I DO...which I would never swap going 12 years back when I could have taken that GRE!
So, I don't begrudge not being recognised by my PhD colleagues or by general public when I say I am a cardiologist and the first thing that comes to their minds is $$$... and not the very exciting job of actually saving real lives while making complex multi-step life & death decisions incorporating deep understanding of all the intricate knowledge I have acquired over 12 years of post college training. All in a day while working with cutting edge technology and advancing the innovations in cardiology with the cutting edge research that I will produce being an medical doctor...

Stephen Shinsky said...

The real gray area comes in when it comes to those PhD scientists who are in biomedical research like myself. It would seem to make sense that PhD and MDs (and those students) would work together as part of the biomedical community, but in reality their is a war between them.

Like myself, many PhD scientists especially in the biomedical field, feel mistreated and underrepresented in comparison to the MDs. I always like to call PhDs doctors as that was the original term, and MDs as physicians instead.

To put things in perspective my best friend and I were college roommates our freshman year both in the pre-med program. I started in a research lab my freshman year and him not until the summer after his sophomore year, but in the end he went to medical school (DO) and I went to graduate school (PhD). Although his grades were a little better than mine, I had a lot more research and teaching assistant experience. So although I would say were were very equal on paper, his salaries and social status will always be higher than mine.

There are many fundamental differences when it comes to the two programs (med school vs. grad school). Medical schools are very dogmatic and structured machines that turn out virtual human computers that are trained to have symptoms/issues input and they output a solution (usually a pill or a referral to a specialist). Most medical are the same with the exception of DO vs. MD. All applicants take the MCAT and apply through AAMC.

Graduate schools are a lot less structured. Every school, hell even individual departments have different application processes and standards. Their programs also vary a ton. One thing I have noticed is that once you are in med school it is almost assured that you'll graduate and not only that, but that it'll be in 4 years. In graduate school there's no telling how long it'll take to get a PhD. It all depends on your luck, and your project, your committee, etc...almost no one in your incoming class graduates at the same time. Everyone is on their own and no administration is holding your hand in most PhD programs.

What really needs to change is that PhDs need to be more socially recognized by the general public. Especially when it comes to public funding, like for instance the NIH, which fund most biomedical research. Similarly I think that PhDs need to be treated more like the doctors they are. They should be allowed to be more involved in clinical trials on the forefront and should receive salaries similar to their MD colleagues. When it comes down to it MDs and PhDs compliment each other vary well. An MD might know what medication to give for a certain condition and he may know the dose and what the interactions are but the PhD will know the molecular mechanism of action and how the drug can be improved. I feel that because both professions work very hard, their needs to be a better balance in rewards for both. Scientists mainly exist under these shitty shortcomings because they are very dedicated to increasing scientific knowledge, but one day that drive may not be enough, and I never want to see a world where people decide it's not worth it to become a scientist. Let's face it clearly we all agree PhDs make far less and are respected far less than MDs, but clearly PhDs are dedicated and have persisted despite these societal flaws. Do you think their would be as many MDs today if we cut their salaries and social status to that of current PhDs? Absolutely NOT

Unknown said...

I agree with what Substadit said about his training as an interventional cardiologist. But it definitely seems like he/she (most likely he) does not really understand the PhD post-doc career path today.

First off, getting a PhD takes an average of 6 years. Then on you usually do TWO postdocs, 3 years each, before you can get an academic job. Not to mention only 14% of PhDs ever obtain an academic faculty position and the other PhDs get stuck in post-doc purgatory or leave science. Then when you finally get an assistant professor position you get paid 80-90,000 (at places like Hopkins, Harvard, etc.), and maybe 70,000 at good state schools (i.e. UVA).

Then if you are lucky enough to get that tenure track job you have to deal with a 10% funding level at NIH. When the assistant professor doesn't get his grant renewed he loses his job. When the academic cardiologist doesn't get his grant renewed he can always fall back on clinical work.

Also clinical research is cited more frequently than basic science therefore comparing impact factors between clinical and basic science research is not really appropriate.

I do agree that academic cardiologists should make more than 200k, and that medicine is a brutal lifestyle. But at least you have the option of making 400k in private practice and no chance of being unemployed. Getting a PhD is one of the worst financial decisions a talented person can make as an individual. Its likely that you will end up in your late thirties switching career paths. Thats why there are 5 PhDs in my medical school class; starting over with 23 year olds and ready for 10 more years of training.

Unknown said...

I agree with what Substadit said about his training as an interventional cardiologist. But it definitely seems like he/she (most likely he) does not really understand the PhD post-doc career path today.

First off, getting a PhD takes an average of 6 years. Then on you usually do TWO postdocs, 3 years each, before you can get an academic job. Not to mention only 14% of PhDs ever obtain an academic faculty position and the other PhDs get stuck in post-doc purgatory or leave science. Then when you finally get an assistant professor position you get paid 80-90,000 (at places like Hopkins, Harvard, etc.), and maybe 70,000 at good state schools (i.e. UVA).

Then if you are lucky enough to get that tenure track job you have to deal with a 10% funding level at NIH. When the assistant professor doesn't get his grant renewed he loses his job. When the academic cardiologist doesn't get his grant renewed he can always fall back on clinical work.

Also clinical research is cited more frequently than basic science therefore comparing impact factors between clinical and basic science research is not really appropriate.

I do agree that academic cardiologists should make more than 200k, and that medicine is a brutal lifestyle. But at least you have the option of making 400k in private practice and no chance of being unemployed. Getting a PhD is one of the worst financial decisions a talented person can make as an individual. Its likely that you will end up in your late thirties switching career paths. Thats why there are 5 PhDs in my medical school class; starting over with 23 year olds and ready for 10 more years of training.

Ron said...

I did not bother to read all of the comments on this post, so I am not sure whether I am the first person to comment who has BOTH an MD and PhD. As someone with such a background, and who is currently conducting PhD type research as well as treating patients as a physician, I thought I would offer my perspective, since I am able to compare the two directly. First, I must say that the two practices (research vs. clinical) are very different, and require two very different skill sets. However, in my opinion, which is based completely on personal experience and has nothing to do with any preconceived notions, what I do with my MD as a "medical doctor" is the greatest test of my humanity and intellect. The demands of clinical practice on my intelligence, knowledge, logic, empathy, morality, kindness and humility is simply far greater than anything I do as a "research doctor". Indeed, the societal label of physicians as "arrogant", or "impersonal" is simply a reflection of what we as a society expects physicians to be, and the criticism of physicians begins when they fail to meet the lofty demands of their job. I can assure you that my research colleagues are every bit as arrogant and impersonal as my clinical colleagues, if not more so. Yet, they will never be criticized for this. Why? Because being humble and empathetic is not part of their job description.

So, in my opinion, the difference between a PhD and MD is not simply elitism. As someone who has done both, I will say that the MD related parts of my training were far more demanding on me than my PhD parts. I will also add that I agree with previous statements that PhD researchers have absolutely no accountability for their work. If you conduct your research irresponsibly, at worst you will lose your job. But it is unlikely that anyone will sue you for it, and you will not go to jail for it. This is very different from clinical practice, where you can easily lose your wealth and freedom if you are not careful.

Finally, I will say that while I enjoy both clinical medicine and my research, the research is the far less stressful part of my dual career.

Shaji Faisal said...

This entire conversation is driven by bias on both sides. Ironically, bias and personal feelings seem to drive virtually every discussion. Thankfully, the distinction between MD and PhD is of little importance to anyone, besides the disgruntled PhD writing this blog or the offended MD reading it. Some basic facts:
1. Clinical practice would be impossible without medical research, which supports the importance of researchers (both MDs and PhDs). The greatest medical discoveries have come from both MDs and PhDs alike. For example, Hounsfield was an electrical engineer who invented the original CT scanner. This invention has indirectly saved more lives than any individual physician.

2. The vast majority of PhDs do not contribute to medicine in such a significant degree (if any degree at all).

3. Almost all MDs are faced with extremely challenging health problems on a minute to minute basis. There is an enormous difference between daily MD and PhD practice, which accounts for difference in pay, prestige, and difficulty. An MD may have 30 patients on his/her service, 5 with retinopathy of prematurity, 5 with hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy, 10 with neonatal RDS, 5 with interventricular hemorrhage, and 5 with metabolic derangement such as hypernatremia on the verge of long term neurological deficit/death. This is just one example of medical practice (neonatology), which is actually much more complex with much greater diversity of patients than I've listed. A PhD may be pressed to instruct students in their own research projects, to give a 2 hr lecture, attend a week long conference, and even write for >10 hours/day in order to complete a manuscript/grant application.

If you can't appreciate the difference in responsibility between the two jobs (as stated above), you shouldn't have been allowed into grad school or med school.

The jobs are different, and both are extremely important. But, the amount of stress a PhD feels when a cell line fails to grow doesn't even resemble the amount of fear/stress/worry that an MD feels when weaning a patient off of a ventilator, and watching as the patient's chest fails to rise.

4. PhDs can be more knowledgeable that MDs, and the opposite is also true. That is more dependent on individual preparedness/study than any sort of institutional training.

5. I hate blogs, because they suck everyone into these inane and time-wasting discussions (including myself obviously).

Wes McClain said...

I am unimpressed with anyone that judges anyone based on a degree or job title. Both PhDs and MDs are left-overs from a pre-American aristocratic time when extensive education leading to changes in title were intended to pass on nobility.

The truth is that most engineers that get a BS----work in industry---work through a masters to fill in their knowledge and then develop leadership and business skills are far superior to PhDs and MDs---which is why your Pentium duo processors cost a couple bucks and going to some dick to give you antibiotics for a cold costs a couple hundred.

That being said, I am pursuing a PhD in Neuroscience---what the hell am I thinking!

Wes McClain said...

I agree---waste of a time argument. Honestly, in my life experience engineers that achieve a BS---go work for a living---work through a masters...and then move onto a professional school are the best served to combine research/problem solving/clinical practice.

Most people that go straight from bachelors degree programs to PhD or MD programs are worthless...and end up trying to intimidate people by writing Matlab programs. Then they get to industry and find out that there skills amount to equaling that of an intern.

Michelle said...

This is an old thread but I will add this: I have a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering. I recently taught an introductory course on, basically, "bio-mechanics 101" for a room full of M.D.'s wanting to specialize and become more knowledgeable about bio-mechanics as it applies to prostheses..etc. I was astounded to find that 90% of my M.D. student's could not solve a quadratic equation. I have to admit, the academic training these particular M.D.s displayed, not simply with regard to basic algebra, but basic scientific concepts and critical thinking, was pathetic. My guess is that 1 of 10 of these guys could cut it in a hard science or engineering (Physics, Chemistry. Mechanical, Chemical, Aerospace, Nuclear engineering) Ph.D. program. The Ph.D. qualifying exam would be death for these guys. Very sad, and frankly quite scary considering these people are in command of your health care.

I raised this issue with a colleague and his analogy was that comparing a mechanical engineer who designs a car (the Ph.D.) to the mechanic who fixes the car (the M.D.). Sadly, after my experience, I tend to agree.

Michelle said...

This is an old thread but I will add this: I have a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering. I recently taught an introductory course on, basically, "bio-mechanics 101" for a room full of M.D.'s wanting to specialize and become more knowledgeable about bio-mechanics as it applies to prostheses..etc. I was astounded to find that 90% of my M.D. student's could not solve a quadratic equation. I have to admit, the academic training these particular M.D.s displayed, not simply with regard to basic algebra, but basic scientific concepts and critical thinking, was pathetic. My guess is that 1 of 10 of these guys could cut it in a hard science or engineering (Physics, Chemistry. Mechanical, Chemical, Aerospace, Nuclear engineering) Ph.D. program. The Ph.D. qualifying exam would be death for these guys. Very sad, and frankly quite scary considering these people are in command of your health care.

I raised this issue with a colleague and his analogy was that comparing a mechanical engineer who designs a car (the Ph.D.) to the mechanic who fixes the car (the M.D.). Sadly, after my experience, I tend to agree.

Unknown said...

I have done both. A Bioscience PhD from Harvard and an MD from Columbia. The MD was way harder because you are required to have well rounded skills and compete with MUCH higher quality students.

The fact of the matter is that as job prospects for Bioscience PhDs have plummeted so has the quality of students entering bioscience PhD programs. This seems like an obvious and expected result from the overproduction of PhDs, funding environment, etc. Consequently, even prestigious PhD programs like Harvard/Hopkins are filled with students that are much less motivated and intelligent than the least capable students in my medical school class. Graduate programs will grant anyone dumb enough to stick around for 6+ years a PhD as long as they are busy pipetting away at the bench. The reason there is higher attrition is because anyone can get in (in contrast to medical school) and many student realize that they are going down a path that leads to multiple postdocs and switching fields. Nothing is going to change in biomedical science and people are still stupid enough to enter PhD programs. The problem is structural and NIH funding will continue to decrease or remain stagnant over the next 10-20 years.


spac18 said...

@Michelle
Well, most of the mds could not solve a quadratic equation because they had not practiced algebra for nearly a decade. The fact that 10% of them were able to solve that without any preparation is quite impressive. I am quite certain that you won't be able to write down a checker board of a trihybrid Mendelian cross and identify the genotypes and phenotypes properly. Even more, I highly doubt that you can even comprehend the differences between genotypes and phenotypes. Proceed now onto the dreaded engineer and mechanic argument. The most obvious and idiotic mistake the proponents of this argument make is the fact that treating a person is completely different from repairing a car. You can't shut down a human body, make the repairs, and then restart. You must identify and correct the abnormalities while keeping the vital signs of the patient intact. After death, brain gets autolysed within a very short time, a shut down car can be restarted after an indefinite interval. The mere fact that a colleague of yous put forward this argument and you tend to agree makes me question the level of wisdom required to qualify for a phd program and makes me certain that very few, if not none of yours kind can make through the medical college and qualify as a physician.

Aldrin Corañez said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeff Warxmagic said...

The reason MDs get paid more than PhDs is simple - you earn money in the real world by working and being productive, not by thinking and theorizing.

When I treat a patient, I perform a task that has monetary value to my employer and to my patient.

When a PhD spends 2 year's worth of work in a lab performing an experiment, he does so for his own intellectual amusement, and whether the results of the experiment turn out to be useful to society is largely hit and miss. How many billions does society waste on research that turns out to be of trivial significance?

This bickering and jealousy that PhDs have toward MDs is analogous to the regret MDs have towards not entering finance, and the regret that college students have when they realize they could have worked for 4 years after high school, not taken on any debt, and started a business.

As an MD, I often find my work fails to satisfy my desire to be creative and explore more challenging subjects. The trade off is I get to drive a shiny black Lamborghini. Cry more.

Scooter said...

To the guys who earned "A Bioscience PhD from Harvard and an MD from Columbia", and thinks the MD is more taxing on the intellect? Either you're outright lying, or obtained your PhD in basket-weaving.

I could care less about you having to use a "more rounded skillset", which presumably refers to the added dimension of human-human interaction. If we're speaking of pure intellectual capacity, I KNOW that the average med-student at my institution is inferior to the average PhD student that manages to complete his or her PhD in one of the tougher fields (e.g. Biochemistry, Structural Biology etc..).

I've seen the med-school material. Yes, it's impressive how much the average med-student has to memorize, but I am very unimpressed by it's complexity. Most of the subjects are presented with the depth of a tough undergrad class at BEST.

Furthermore, it's almost impossible to flunk out of med-school (very unlike PhD programs). The hand-holding makes med-school a much easier ride than obtaining a PhD.

The hardest part of med-school, is GETTING INTO med-school. That's it. Once there, the mediocre are not weeded out, and the mediocre may "practice medicine".

The successful PhD who is able to make a career from academic research? THAT is far more difficult than being a medical doctor.

As someone else mentioned.. the engineer who designed and maybe built the car is on a different level than Mr. Jiffy Lube, who performed the oil change.

And @spac18:

Let me speak as someone who hasn't looked at Mendelian genetics or looked at algebra in quite some time, and is a molecular and structural biologist by trade. I can tell you that I could easily solve quadratic equations and do punnet squares, with ease. Are you kidding? That stuff is basic.

As for getting through med-school? If I wanted to be in med-school, I would be. As I said, the subject matter is easy compared to what I had to go through for my PhD. Many of my fellow students were in the same intellectual class, and I feel they could have breezed through med-school, as well. Beyond the memorization, it's a breeze.

Certain PhD fields have individuals who invent the tech for MDs to utilize. We are the foundation upon which you are built. From my perspective, MDs are smart, walking "flowcharts". I design and test the drugs. I have to know everything from the higher levels of math, to some physics, to a lot of biochemistry, and a lot of programming, to do what I do. What an MD "knows" and implements is, to me, the equivalent of "slack-jawed yokel" from The Simpsons.

wisethug1 said...

To the scooter,

You are a typical for a PhD with inferiority complex which the topic of this forum or blog.

I will put down an analysis for every word you wrote to tell you how much dangerous people like you are to your own self. You assume that you are more smart than others but your thinking is flawed and here is why

You wrote” To the guys who earned "A Bioscience PhD from Harvard and an MD from Columbia", and thinks the MD is more taxing on the intellect? Either you're outright lying, or obtained your PhD in basket-weaving.” Why you assume that he is lying!! Very strange way to think of others. I am a physician scientist too and yes medical school is more taxing, intellectual and the level of material is more complex and higher that that taught to PhDs. Medical school is four full years and in my school we had exam very month in addition to the boards followed by a residency training which has internal exams every two months as well. On the contrary PhD is just three years of very week curriculum written by the faculty of your program not a standardized material and it differs from program to program with no official license exams or national standardized testing that will expose level, ignorance and low education level. This is followed by what we call “dating” where you will go for two months rotations in three labs of your fantasy low tier creepy professors who does not know who to dress a tie. And when you finish with one of them he will be your “date” for the thesis and you will be shaped after him by doing his projects that’s why they hire you in the first place.

“I've seen the med-school material. Yes, it's impressive how much the average med-student has to memorize, but I am very unimpressed by it's complexity. Most of the subjects are presented with the depth of a tough undergrad class at BEST.” Really? and what are the materials they teach to you? a high school science class at best. Is that what you said to your family and friend when you failed to go to medical school? And why you argument is flawed. At one point it is difficult to memorize, then it is not complex then it is undergrad level. Points that are contradictory to each other from someone who claims that he is trained PhD

“Furthermore, it's almost impossible to flunk out of med-school (very unlike PhD programs). The hand-holding makes med-school a much easier ride than obtaining a PhD.” The reason for that is the character of a medical doctor who is vigorous sharp and resolute and will not give up after all the hard work. I had a professor who hated MDs very much and yet he hired someone like me because he said that medical students work hard than a PhD . The hypocrite did a lot of stuff to get his sun in MD/PhD program in Chicago North not in his Ivy League universe because they will pay the kid the whole money. Unlike any respected profession PhD students in life science lack the energy to pass any standardized test or professional license exam hence they drop out quickly because they gave up quickly not because the material is difficult. It is all about discipline that you could not achieve in a college or MCAT

wisethug1 said...



“The hardest part of med-school, is GETTING INTO med-school. That's it. Once there, the mediocre are not weeded out, and the mediocre may "practice medicine".” The selection process of the medical admission ensures that there is no such thing called mediocre and those who score lower end in lower specialties and lower residency programs. So if you board scores are low you are unlikely to do respected specialty.

“The successful PhD who is able to make a career from academic research? THAT is far more difficult than being a medical doctor.” Wawoo was that very difficult to you because of the dime career prospects of PhD graduates and the limited number of jobs for please hire desperate or is it because you are you are not part of licensed profession and you can never be part of private practice profession (MD, lawyers, civil engineer, electrical engineer, or any engineer in that prospect”

“As someone else mentioned.. the engineer who designed and maybe built the car is on a different level than Mr. Jiffy Lube, who performed the oil change.”

Bad example because Mr. Jiffy is has not been to engineering school in the first place. That’s typical of PhDs who end up as technicians and think they know better.


Let me speak as someone who hasn't looked at Mendelian genetics or looked at algebra in quite some time, and is a molecular and structural biologist by trade. I can tell you that I could easily solve quadratic equations and do punnet squares, with ease. Are you kidding? That stuff is basic


I worked with PhDs. They do not know how to do these things and at one point as before finishing reading you whole post I figured out that you must be in molecular biology. Those are people sitting in the kitchen and add 10 ul of that acid to 5 ul of that salt and heat then spin and think they are real doctors. I was surprised by myself when I had to help someone take calculus 102 in University (mine were A+) and the pathetic PhD student could not solve basic algebra

“I wanted to be in med-school, I would be.” I can not stop laughing at the comment that almost all the bitter PhDs in Psychology and molecular biology say the same childish thing. I could have been a pilot if want to I could have been a lawyer if want to. I could have been this if I want to and I could have been that if I want to. The truth is that these programs are there for science majors who could not make it to medical school and are too psychological hurt to switch to another career

“Beyond the memorization, it's a breeze.” Who stopped you if you have the smart ability to do that except for the fact that your classmate had the determination, focus and were humble enough to seek knowledge but you think that you are better than them with molecular biology degree!!! Jesus, my science was not even in molecular biology and I used to teach the materials to students and pre meds. In science we have a say “ANY ONE CAN DO MOLECULAR BIOLOGY”. In medicine we have say “if you are in medicine you must have passed biology and biochemistry” Yet some people like you are still stuck there

“Certain PhD fields have individuals who invent the tech for MDs to utilize”
Almost all of the breakthroughs in medicine were invented by MDs others were by engineers who do not worry about people calling them doctors. Can you tell me which surgical forceps was invented by a PhD. which major equipment was invented by PhD. It was all invented by engineers or physicians. Of the all Noble prize winners in physiology and medicine after 1950 2/3 are physicians and those PhDs who won did not qualify alone they had to hang out with one physician to learn the ins and outs of medical thinking.

wisethug1 said...

Let me give you this comparison between a PhD Scooter and MD Robert
Robert had a high GPA and went to college. Scooter had a not so good GPA and went to the same college. Robert took classes in Calculus, Physics, Biology, Biochemistry, Scooter did classes in psychology, sociology and only mandatory classes in math and physics. Robert Had 3.8 to 4 GPA. Scooter had 3.2 to 3.5. Robert took all premed classes which included biology and biochemistry. Scooter took all psychology and philosophy classes. Robert took the MCAT exam which is difficult. Scooter took only GRE. Robert applied for medical school and had to buy a suit dress and talk professionally to do interviews and pay for the applications and trying to improve his CV as mush as possible. Scooter wears his shorts and flip flop, back bag and go to interview with hippie professors who wanted to see if he is part of them or not. Robert had to take an exam every month then the license exams which are the first board exam in basic science, did you hear that in basic science. Then, the clinical knowledge then the clinical skills then the final license exam which is 2 days each 8 hours. And is very quick to recognize ignorance. Scooter only has to suck ass to his professor and do what his thesis professor tells him to do. Robert finishes his medical school and had to go to residency traingng with another round of interviews and depending on scores and take exam every two months and sit for the board oral and written before finally going in private practice. Scooter because of his poor training had to go through postdoc on cheap wages doing work for another professor then try to find a job in pharma after his professor fouled him and told him he will good in pharama because Scooter can not write grants and do not know much about science. Scooter works on the bench adding 10 ul of this and 5 ul of that and thinks he is doing drugs discovery. Roberts see a wide range of cases writes reports supervise clinical trials and in his practice, he has a very rich environment with good pay. Yet by the end of the day scooter thinks that he is more smart the Robert and that he could have gone to medical school if he wanted to and that Robert is not well educated and do not know much as scooter. Scooter thinks that Robert’s curriculum is not as good as Scooter and he is much better than lawyers MDs engineers and any licensed profession……
As for the PhD owner of the blog try to go to medical school or change filed quickly to something that is respected like Chem, Physic or something along these lines.

The Eternal Postdoc said...

You'll notice that I have yet to place a comment on this thread, but the comments today 'inspired' me. This particular blog has been recently updated with my fresh perspective. I encourage people to take a look at how one person's perspective can change over time. Also, there are the points I want to make based on what I've read in the comments over time. One, smug superiority seems to be alive and well in people with both PhD and MD after their name, and its easy to resort to the quick stereotype of what you assume the other does. It rarely tells the whole story. However, if you also read carefully there are a lot of cogent comments that avoid simple stereotypes, and really get into how society and medicine itself views the two differently. To me that's a sign that no matter how outdated my own views are to me, the blog has hit a correct nerve.

And as an FYI, THIS PhD CHOSE to neither pursue medical school (gasp! it happens!) nor the high tower of academia as PhD (double gasp! A PhD who didn't want to be a prof!). THIS PhD works in small biotech, working with a fantastic group of scientists (PhDs) doing preclinical work to directly support clinical trials and then helping to conduct those trials with another group of excellent physicians (MDs). If we are ALL successful, this new treatment will hopefully directly affect patient care. I don't worry about respect, I'm too busy working on the end goal. Cheers.

Scooter said...

Dear wisethug1,
First of all, nice handle. “Wisethug”? Really? Anyway, on to dismantling your arguments. Some of them have merit, but most are obtuse.

“You are a typical for a PhD with inferiority complex which the topic of this forum or blog.
I will put down an analysis for every word you wrote to tell you how much dangerous people like you are to your own self. You assume that you are more smart than others but your thinking is flawed and here is why “

I know my capabilities. I wrote my piece because I am tired of hearing MDs or MD/PhDs (who tend to be poorly trained in basic science research) state what you espoused in your previous three diatribes of vomit.

“Why you assume that he is lying!! Very strange way to think of others. I am a physician scientist too and yes medical school is more taxing, intellectual and the level of material is more complex and higher that that taught to PhDs.”

You’re correct; I shouldn’t have assumed he is automatically lying. But depending on the PhD, he is definitely incorrect in many instances. As for you telling me that med-school material is tougher than the program I went through? Conceptually? Not a chance. In considering my training (classes and research), along with what I know about med-school courses, I do not believe for a second that it is more taxing intellectually. The same could be said for many of my colleagues. As an aside, I’ve said this many times: what PhDs are you measuring med-school against?

“Medical school is four full years and in my school we had exam very month in addition to the boards followed by a residency training which has internal exams every two months as well.”

So? And.. that means nothing. It’s rote memorization, that is mostly forgotten by the time residency rolls around.

“On the contrary PhD is just three years of very week curriculum written by the faculty of your program not a standardized material and it differs from program to program with no official license exams or national standardized testing that will expose level, ignorance and low education level.”

While you are insulting the intelligence of the PhD with the above quote, I will so kindly ignore your poor English, and attribute it to the possibility that it isn’t your native language? Anyway, you are so wrong! PhD courses in the “hard” sciences tend to be much tougher than medical school courses, with respect to depth and complexity. I know this in reference to being familiar with the curriculum of the medical schools in my area.
Furthermore, your logic is flawed. You prop up your elitist view, with “standardized testing”??? Yeah.. “Leave No Child Behind” demands standardized testing, too. LOL!

Scooter said...

“Really? and what are the materials they teach to you? a high school science class at best. Is that what you said to your family and friend when you failed to go to medical school? And why you argument is flawed. At one point it is difficult to memorize, then it is not complex then it is undergrad level. Points that are contradictory to each other from someone who claims that he is trained PhD”

I don’t even know how I should answer you here. You’re very angry. The science courses I took for my PhD, and the ones I know my colleagues took in the other hard science departments, were brutal. We’re not talking about basic high-school or even difficult undergrad science courses. Many of the ground level courses weeded people out to the point where, after the first year, we lost about half the students.

Also, what are you talking about? I never contradicted myself; I said that med-school courses are not full of complex, in-depth material, but there is a LOT of material to memorize. Rote memorization and creativity (which manifests mostly in diagnoses for MDs) are two different things. PhDs require far more on the latter, in research. This is common sense. Please get some of it.

“The reason for that is the character of a medical doctor who is vigorous sharp and resolute and will not give up after all the hard work.”
Suppostion and obfuscation. You automatically attribute qualities to MDs, and then infer they are not present in PhDs.

“The selection process of the medical admission ensures that there is no such thing called mediocre and those who score lower end in lower specialties and lower residency programs. So if you board scores are low you are unlikely to do respected specialty.”

True. But you are wrong on a few accounts. I mentioned before that the hardest part is getting IN to med school. This requires two abilities above all else: 1) Good at rote memorization, and 2) Good at taking standardized tests. Those two qualities certainly allow for mediocre individuals to get into med-school. You are confused as to what comprises a great intellect. Memorization is a tool, but not an essential feature.

“Wawoo was that very difficult to you because of the dime career prospects of PhD graduates and the limited number of jobs for please hire desperate or is it because you are you are not part of licensed profession and you can never be part of private practice profession (MD, lawyers, civil engineer, electrical engineer, or any engineer in that prospect”

First of all, don’t compare MDs to most engineering fields. I have far more respect for the math and science most of them have to go through, compared to med-school classes. Second, I said it is difficult to thrive in ACADEMIC research (and probably industry as well). It’s cut-throat. Funding is highly competitive, even from non-NIH and non-NSF sources.

“Bad example because Mr. Jiffy is has not been to engineering school in the first place. That’s typical of PhDs who end up as technicians and think they know better.”
Better example than you think. Let’s try this again. Who had the more difficult job, intellectually, in comparing the radiologist who reads the MRI, versus the engineers and PhDs who designed the machine? Tell me, buddy. Another comparison would be with the PhDs who design the drug, versus the doctors who prescribes it upon diagnosing diseases? It's not even close.

Scooter said...

“I worked with PhDs. They do not know how to do these things and at one point as before finishing reading you whole post I figured out that you must be in molecular biology. Those are people sitting in the kitchen and add 10 ul of that acid to 5 ul of that salt and heat then spin and think they are real doctors. I was surprised by myself when I had to help someone take calculus 102 in University (mine were A+) and the pathetic PhD student could not solve basic algebra.”

Anecdotal evidence in itself does not validate a hypothesis. I can point out similar experiences, such as when an MD-PhD couldn’t make LB-Kan broth (which is easier than scrambling eggs), and I had to help him with that! This is a guy who already HAD his PhD, and supposedly spent time doing bench work. But, I know such an example is an anomaly. You lack guile when it comes to setting up logical arguments; that is becoming increasingly apparent.

As for your calculus example.. good for you. But really, the whole, “I am a jackass who thinks I’m superior because I know calculus and made an A+++++ in all my calc courses”, is played-out. Besides, if you really want to brag, step away from your baby calculus, and come play with abstract algebra, number theory, or any within the more advanced fields of math (such as in discrete mathematic or mathematical logic).

I don’t shy from higher level math, programming, or physics. AGAIN, I am a **PhD** I had to learn all of this, on my own (which is a hallmark of a good PhD), to get my degree in structural biology. I have colleagues who are PhDs who are on the same level, or better, and to be blunt, I don’t know one MD who can look at that stuff, and explain it to me. They never had to go through that training. I don’t know one MD who can program (and scripting-lite doesn’t count). I only know a few MDs who could run a simple experiment without f-ing it up royally. I don’t know any MDs who can write grants, and few who are decent at journal writing.

Getting into medical school would not have been difficult for me. I know the coursework, I know the entrance requirements (which are all based around GPA and extracurricular activities that point towards medicine), and none of it is too difficult. But, I want to be intellectually challenged on a daily basis, and discover even a tiny bit of how the universe works. The question, “what is the nature of existence” is answered both in discrete minute steps, and with large epiphanies. I want to be a part of that!

I was raised around doctors. I didn’t want that lifestyle. It doesn’t allow for one to learn in-step with the profession, as does a PhD in one of the basic sciences. Why do you assume that PhDs and engineers, especially the brilliant ones, ever wanted to practice medicine?

“Who stopped you if you have the smart ability to do that except for the fact that your classmate had the determination, focus and were humble enough to seek knowledge but you think that you are better than them with molecular biology degree!”.

I am going to assume that above non-sensical, flawed rant is just your bruised ego, at realizing that perhaps med-school is not the end-all of intelligence. My position of defense is to say that many PhDs are not inferior to MDs. This naturally implies that too many MDs mistakenly believe their degree confers superior intellect. Furthermore, you betray your gross ingorance of how most obtain their PhDs. The testing is rigorous, and the path chaotic. I already told you, I know med-school curriculum. It’s not on the same level, with regards to depth of knowledge in comparison to the courses I took for my PhD. And dude.. I didn’t want to be an MD. It’s boring to me, and I don’t want to treat sick people. Not even for the amount of money offered after residency. Get a clue.. there are many in the social sciences and the business world who were more than brilliant enough to get into med-school, and decided not to do so. Are they stupid, too?

Scooter said...

Dear "Eternal" Postdoc,

I want to send out my apologies to you, for helping perpetuate the discord that is present in the response section, of this blog.

I've been subject to a fair amount of criticism from family, friends, and even strangers for not taking the medical school path. As I mentioned in a previous post, I just didn't want to go there, because the bottom line for me, is intellectual stimulation within a career that I enjoy. I realized how much money and prestige I would forego, and was constantly bombarded with the cautions about academic and industry research. Yes, I knew that I could end up being in the ranks of the highly-educated but under-employed. Nevertheless, my reservations coupled with the fact that after some amount of time as an MD, I would probably want to stab myself in the eye out of hate for my job, made me take the PhD route.

I used to think like some of the arrogant MDs. Keep in mind, I am very familiar with medical school curriculum. However, upon reflection of the obvious, such as the fact that the scientific foundation of medicine is built and advanced on the backs of PhDs in the sciences and engineers, I had a polar shift in opinion. I keep hearing retorts about how much med students are tested, and about boards and whatnot. My response is that none of that adds to the canon of knowledge; none of it is original. It’s just an exercise in what most of us did in undergrad: “Memorize, regurgitate, forget.. repeat.” This is a necessary exercise, to be sure, but nothing about it is creative, or a definitive measure of intelligence, as some MDs want us to believe.

At some point early in my PhD, I realized I had naively jumped into a field that was potentially heavy in the other science disciplines (including CIS). I "bit the bullet", and went all-in. It was one of the most tumultuous times in my life due to knowing that I only had a certain amount of time to finish a difficult project with little guidance . I was only funded for a couple of years, and then had to win two fellowships to get funding for the rest of my PhD career. Not easy. My mentor had very few graduate students make it through her lab, because she was a stickler for PhDs learning on their own. She didn't guide step-by-step, and this fit with my personality, which is to try like hell to solve a problem on my own, before going to the "boss". Despite all of this, it was fun. I like living on the edge, being put to the test intellectually, and coming out “on top”. I think my PhD was the epitome of that description.

Anyway, I am sidetracked a bit :) The point is that my PhD path, and those of my colleagues were very difficult to get through. In fact I watched a couple of friends who were intelligent with all the under-grad credentials drop out, because the PhD process was just too taxing for their liking. I think both of them came into their respective programs with the attitude that it would be a "day on the beach". One of them left after his mentor (and some committee members) continually reprimanded him for poor lab work, a lack of progress towards completing comps, and awful seminar presentations. The other left because he failed some of the upper-level coursework, was put on probation, and also failed to progress with his project.

I have respect for the work that MDs do, and have no problem with their pay. But one vexation is with the many (majority?) MDs who believe that getting through medical school makes them an intellectual superior who is of greater value to society. Another is with the notion that all PhDs in the sciences are those went the "lesser" path because they couldn't get into medical school. This is such a gross fallacy, but it persists. It persists in glaring light of the fact that many PhDs undergo academic rigors that objectively are tougher than med-school, and many PhDs contribute to society on a grand scale which may not directly affect an individual, but does so for populations.

Sean O'Malley said...

I'm a med student and may I just say this post is refreshing.

I am from a Neuroscience background myself and decided I wanted to go into medicine ahead of going the PhD route, essentially because I prefer being out on the wards with people than in a lab, it's just how I am.

However I've struggled recently in school purely because of the elitism that I witness frequently. Don't get me wrong, there are some genuine lovely people in with me whom will be great physicians I am certain but every day I have to listen to how "demanding" medicine is, how much time you will devote to it, how nobody knows the struggles of a med student or doctor. It is all, quite frankly, bollocks. I came top of the class in Neuroscience, I worked 60-70 hours a week to do that and still made time for what was important to me, I saw PhDs working even heavier than I was very frequently, in fact the lab I did my undergraduate thesis in had a PhD who in one week had to fly to Italy, America and England then back to Ireland (where I am).

PhDs do wonderful work and I dislike the thought of any PhD thinking less of me for being a physician much like I dislike the thought of looking down on a PhD, for all of us in the health services this should be a unified effort to improve health care in a way that all of us can be proud of, MDs, PhDs, Nurses etc. It is such a shame that it has developed to this level.

John Constantine said...

This is a really interesting conversation and I see a lot of missed points.

This is coming from someone who is a Doctoral Candidate in a non-biomedical field (computer science). I was also a Medical student for about a year and left to pursue a start up. I could have gone back to medical school later on (I was in the top end of my class). However, I decided to pursue my passion in computing.

I keep hearing "Doctors get paid more because...(insert argument)". The reason Doctors get paid more is supply and demand. Why does a stripper make $150K while my Pastor who has a Ph.D. and an M.Div is lucky to make $50K? We don't paid based on how much benefit we provide to society.

As for which group is truly more worthy of praise. I would say they are not comparable. My Ph.D. program requires an extreme amount of critical and abstract thinking. In medical school, I was required to learn large volumes of information. I am lucky to be multi talented and could either do medical school or do a Ph.D. in the hard sciences. However, most people are not. I don't think every computer scientist has the ability to finish medical school and not every physician has the acumen to handle the hard sciences at the Doctorate level.

Personally, I have never thought of one being superior to the other; just different. I personally respect the differences between professions and don't try to compare my field to another field for that reason.

wisethug1 said...

To John Constantine

Please note that your specialty is irrelevant to this conversation.

The main topic here involves people in the so called life science. Those are the people who had issues with physicians and the only thing that they teach them in those weak programs of psychology, neuroscience and sociology is “ physicians do not know “. It remains a mystery to me how someone who have not been in the medical school is doing medical research. The dangerous of this is medical phenomena and scientific discovery pass under them and they would not be able to recognize it. The majority of the graduates of these programs specially from ivy league has sense of entitlement that they should be called doctors and receive the same salaries and work in the clinics even though they failed and lacked the ability to comprehend the medical knowledge.


How come a zoology PhD is a professor of neuroscience doing research on Multiple Sclerosis and wants to do clinical research?

Or other psychology PhD who thinks Alzheimer’s is a psychological disease. His thesis was about how schizophrenic patients recognize animals?

PhDs in civil engineering, law ..etc do not get involved in these issues.

Abyd said...

Hmmm...I am an MD who spent four years in a molecular biology postdoc after residency and published in one the the C/N/S journals (Cell/Nature or Science; I won't reveal which here). Here's the deal. I think it's a head/tails situation. MDs do not have great scientific depth, contribute to knowledge or do any creative work (generally speaking), but they have job security, prestige and a great pay. PhDs have no job security and poor renumeration, but they get to do intellectually stimulating work and make genuine contributions to knowledge. As an MD I must accept that the depth of my (scientific) knowledge is not remotely comparable to many PhDs, but at the same time after spending time in the creative enterprise of research I find medicine to be intolerably boring. Talk about: heads I lose, tails you win.