Is MD and PhD the same?

In this post we are going to answer the question ‘’Is MD and PhD the same?’’ We will highlight the main differences between both degrees taking into account factors such as job opportunities and salary.

Is MD and PhD the same?

No, MD and PhD isn’t the same. First, that MD is connected to treating patients and that Phd is related to a physician in other fields is the distinction that can be stated in both.

Ph.D. and MD are higher degrees. Ph.D. means Doctor of Philosophy while MD means Doctor of Medicine.

Formal preparation in clinical care consists of an MD program. Education for doctors is typically longer and more rigorous than for other positions in the treatment of patients (such as nurses or technicians). 

What separates medical doctors from these other duties is that their MD preparation prepares them for a focus on overall diagnosis and clinical care course decisions. Doctors may also specialize in highly skilled sub-fields for which other health care practitioners, such as various forms of surgery, are not qualified.

In almost every scientific discipline, from sociology to microbiology, PhD programs may be provided. In that area, a PhD holder is called a doctor. The goal of pursuing a PhD is usually to move into a position, often in education, that involves doing research work.

Differences between MD and PhD       

To start an accurate description of both should be laid out.


As a medical student you are following a course of study through books and hands-on to qualify and practice as a Doctor of Medicine and a PhD or doctoral student you are awarded a doctorate based off of your original research that has never been shown before and you’ve completed a dissertation that has to be approved by a board of professors otherwise known as a committee.

And of course, generally speaking, MDs will go on to be practicing physicians or clinicians and PhDs if they follow the road of academia will generally become professors and there’s a lot of caveats to that which we will get into later but that is the classical pathway.

On the other hand, med school consists of four years of study which the first two are composed of predominantly book work and lecture and you learned the art of Medicine for however the last two years you actually spend with hands-on experience doing your clinical rotations.

From there you will apply to a residency program where you will hopefully match with the residency program of your choice which can last between three and six years depending on your specialty, and you can even further specialize your training with an one to three year fellowship.

Graduate school or doing a PhD has a much less rigid structure and can take on average about six years to complete and this time varies depending on your discipline, the University, your mentor, and of course the complexity of your project and the country you live in.

Most doctorates are comprised of the first two years of the fundamental framework for all of your scientific background so you will do a lot of coursework and lecture based classes which is similar to med school but is less focused on the clinical component and more so on experimental design grant writing, writing for publications and public speaking during your course work.

You are concurrently rotating in labs if you haven’t already decided on a lot before you join the University, so you’re rotating in different labs to find your home lab from which you would then carry out the rest of your time doing your PhD.

You and your new mentor will decide a dissertation project that is centered on a central hypothesis and you will generally have specific aims for which you will use a variety of methods to tackle your hypothesis.

Once you’ve completed this and again for which the time is highly variable you will defend it in an oral presentation and then you will be examined by a board of professor otherwise known as your committee who also specialized in your discipline.

Job outcomes

So what happens after each? So, after med school and then residency and potentially a fellowship you will usually begin practicing as a Board Certified Physician. 

After a PhD you generally will follow a post-doctoral fellowship which can last between 1 and actually many years. Which doctorates can get into a little bit later and can sometimes carry over into doing more than one post-doctoral fellowship.

During your time as a postdoc you will be perfecting and refining your skills as a scientist and from there you can hope to aspire an assistant professor and getting hired by a university to then move up the ranks to:

  • Assistant Professor
  • Associate Professor
  • Full Professor
  • Dean

 Or after your postdoc you can pursue an industry based position possibly doing research in the field of pharmaceutical biotechnology or become a medical Science Liaison, etc.

How much debt?

Let’s see what is the average debt accumulated for an MD versus the average debt accumulated of a PhD. First we are going to look at cost and strictly speaking in terms of the programs on their own.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, for one year at a public in-state medical school the average cost was roughly $35,000 and for out-of-state it was roughly $58,000.

Tuition and fees at a private school averaged well over $50,000. So if you can account for all four years of medical school in-state is about $138,000 and out-of-state and private school is about $230,000.

So, including the money that you need for cost of living, rent, books and your tuition of course, reports indicate that the average med student with a loan debt of about $200,000 – $300,000. Not including any prior educational costs

Now, for a PhD strictly speaking for the program on its own will generally cover your tuition and also offer you a stipend of about $26,000. However $26,000 is usually not enough so over the course of those 5 to 6 years that you’re in grad school you can rack up a hefty loan.

Reports range really widely on this one as a little as $10,000 in loan debt and can go all the way up to on average $200,000. That is very individual and it also factors into some people also had other dependents that they were caring for like children and spouses.

How much will you make?

Now that you have all these debts how do you pay it back? It’s probably no surprise that a physician makes a good salary and it’s also probably no surprise widely varies based on your specialty.

During your residency the average income of a resident for the duration that you’re there is about $55,000 and then you’ll move on to a full physician which has a steep range: $160,000 for a general practitioner to $680,000 a year for neurological surgery.

Now, the average income for a PhD is a little bit tricky because there are a lot of different paths you can take as a PhD. But going the most common path by pursuing a postdoctoral fellowship, the average postdoc in the U.S makes about $43,000 a year.

After you finish your time as a postdoc and hopefully land a position as an assistant professor you’ll make roughly $70,000 a year. Then you can aspire becoming a full professor making about $118,000 a year.

Outside of academia, reports show that a biotechnician or a medical science liaison makes about $100,000 to $112,000 a year. Of course this is highly variable, this is just average, it depends on what institution, company, how long you’ve been with the company and of course what country you live in.

Job success rate?

Now let’s talk about job success rate. How successful are you at obtaining employment after graduating from school.

Something that I found interesting is that last year out of all the graduates applying for residency in addition to internationals that were also applying to residency, almost 30% of those graduates did not match for a residency program.

Those 30% of graduates may try to rematch again next year. But for the 70% of the people who did get a residency, employment is actually very high according only 1% were unemployed so 99% of them after the completed residency found employment.

Another report indicates that over the next 10 years there’s going to be a 15% increase in job demand for physicians and surgeons.

Not only are you likely to have a job after you finish residency but it seems like employment opportunities are only increasing.

Unfortunately this statistics for a PhD is a little bit more grim. In a 2018 report only 57% of PhD graduates surveyed that they had a job after graduation and that was also including people who said they had acquired a postdoc.

Only 15% to 20% of postdocs will actually obtain a tenure-track academic position and with a staggering rise of postdocs with an increase of about 100% of postdocs now from the year 2000 to present. There are a ton of postdocs that still have not found positions at an academic institution.

Those other PhD graduates jump straight into the workforce or they decide to apply their skills on to new adventures.

MD vs PhD, which path to take?

There are a lot of things to consider when you’re choosing professional school. Something that you really have to consider is how you would like to spend the rest of your time on earth and that can be either preventing and treating disease as an MD or being at the forefront of research trying to cure disease.

You also have to consider things like your personality type, your desired income quality of life and chances of you getting a job after your education. But most importantly you really have to consider where your true passion lies.

FAQS:  Is MD and PhD the same?

Is an MD equivalent to a PhD?

A PhD is the maximum graduate degree in most subject areas. The graduate is typically a PhD for study and college teaching, while the technical doctorates are the PhD (MD), the PhD (EdD) and the PhD of Juris (JD), etc.

Which is better PhD or MD?

While having a PhD is prestigious, a career as an MD has a better employment rate and a better salary.

Which is harder MD or PhD?

It is difficult to compare, since they are focused differently. The MD degree is more difficult and more expensive to obtain in addition to the amount of working hours during residency and they are very demanding.

What is the difference between MD and MD PhD?

MD PhD programs typically last 7-8 years and require medical and graduate school attendance. In four years, however, MD programs will be done, half the time MD PhD students are expected.

What’s higher than PhD?

The PhD is the maximum, of course, each of the degrees of diploma has its own meaning and weight.

In this post we answered the question ‘’Is MD and PhD the same?’’ We highlighted the main differences between both degrees taking into account factors such as job opportunities and salary.

If you have any questions or comments please let us know! 


What is the Real Difference between an MD and PhD? (2020). Retrieved November 10, 2020, from Psychology Today website:

Borrell, L. (2013, June 3). MD vs PhD – Which should You study? | Postgraduate Search. Retrieved November 10, 2020, from website: