Professional Doctorates: The Basics for Prospective Students

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A Professional Doctorate is a specialised postgraduate degree focused on the improvement of professional practice rather than academics. So while a PhD in, say, English Literature is designed primarily to develop the ability to carry out academic enquiry and practice at the highest level, the professional doctorate is focused on practice outside the university or research lab. As one study puts it, “Whereas the ‘traditional’ Doctor of Philosophy degree is intended to develop professional researchers, the professional doctorate is designed to develop researching professionals” (Bourner, Bowden and Laing, 2010).

The Professional Doctorate typically includes a taught element. This may be individual, through tutorials (“directed study”), but more often it involves classes with small groups. There are exceptions to that rule: some classes for those pursuing an MD, for example, are certainly not small. Students can expect classes that cover their area of study, but also on research methods. Coursework may be assessed via essays, practical exams, written exams or other methods.

The final step in the degree programme is most commonly a thesis, but in keeping with the nature of these degrees it may be described as an extended practical project, the results of which are submitted along with a discussion of the scholarly research that backed its design and an extensive analysis of results. Typically students take a real-world problem from the area they work in, and try to solve it using the research methods and knowledge gained from the taught programme.

Most Professional Doctorate students are working professionals, so it makes sense that the majority study part-time. The exceptions to that rule tend to be those programmes that are required as a basis for some forms of professional practice, e.g. some medical and engineering doctorates.

There has been a massive growth in the number of Professional Doctorate programmes in the UK in the 21st century: a 30 percent increase just between 2005 and 2010 (Brown and Cooke, 2010), with more options available each year. That popularity reflects an increasingly high profile for these degrees.

Why the change?

First, the Professional Doctorate is now better known outside the fields where it has traditionally existed, e.g. medicine, and that heightened visibility leads to more interest. Also, more people than ever are earning Masters degrees, leading some to consider further study as a way to differentiate themselves.

More working professionals feel that a doctorate will either provide recognition for their innovative practice or enable them to innovate. It is typical for professional doctorates to be closely tied to the field of practice, through accreditation, recognition or partnership with bodies that set practice parameters, such as the Engineering Council.

The word “clinical” in a degree title should mean that it is geared towards practice in a clinic setting; likewise, the word “applied” should mean that the degree contents are geared towards work in the real world rather than theoretical research.

What professional doctorates are available?

It’s likely that new degree forms will be added with regularity. The following sections provide basic information about professional doctorates currently on offer by one or more UK universities.

Universities may use slightly different names or abbreviations for the same type of professional doctorate, e.g. Doctor of Social Science, SocSCiD or DSocSci, and within each category there may be degree options available that are further specialised, e.g. Doctor of International Education.

Finally, some universities offer Doctorate in Professional Studies (DProf) degrees that can be adapted to create a bespoke degree programme that fits your personal circumstances.


The MD is required to practice medicine, the DDS is required to become a dentist, and others may be required for specific specialties. Other medical Professional Doctorates may represent ways for practitioners to enter careers in medical education or research.

  • Doctor of Medicine (MD)
  • Doctor of Medical Imagery (DMedIm)
  • Doctor of Medical Science (DMedSci)
  • Doctor of Pharmacy (DPharm)
  • Doctor of Clinical Science (DClinSci)
  • Doctor of Clinical Practice (DClinP)
  • Doctor of Medical Ethics (DMedEth)
  • Master of Surgery (MCh)
  • Doctor of Dental Science (DDS)
  • Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS), Doctor of Dental Surgery by Research (DDSc)
  • Doctorate in Clinical Dentistry (DClinDent)
  • Doctor of Biomedical Science (DBiomedSci, DBMS)

Health, Social and Health Science doctorates

This may be the most varied category of Professional Doctorates. Approval from the Health Professions Council ( may be essential for the programme if your goal is permission to work in that profession. The following options are available in health and health-related fields:

  • Doctor in Chiropracty (DChiro)
  • Doctor of Health (DHealth) Doctor of Healthcare (DHC), Professional Doctorate in Health (DHealth), Doctor of Health Studies (DHS)

This doctorate type may have a focus on a specific healthcare field, e.g. Nursing or Counselling.

  • Doctorate in Health Care Education, Doctor of Health and Social Care Education (DHealthCareEd)
  • Doctor in Health Sciences (HSciD, DHSci)
  • Doctorate in Health Sciences (Clinical) (HScD(Clin))
  • Doctor of Nursing (DN)
  • Doctor in Nursing Science (DNursSci)
  • Doctor in Midwifery (DM, Dmidwif, DMID)
  • Doctor of Podiatry (DPod)
  • Doctor of Occupational Therapy (DOccT, DOT)
  • Doctor of Optometry (DOptometry)
  • Opthalmic Doctorate (OD)
  • Doctor of Physiotherapy (DTP, DPhys)
  • Doctor of Public Health (DrPH)
  • Doctor of Radiography (DRadiography)
  • Doctor of Health Research (DHealthRes)
  • Doctor of Social Work (DSW, DSocW)
  • Doctor of Social Care (DSocial Care), Doctor of Social Care Management (DManagement [Social Care Practice))

Psychology, Psychotherapy Counselling doctorates

This category of professional doctorates is growing quickly. More specialised awards may help you practice in very specific fields. If you want to practice as a psychologist in the UK, look for an award that has Health Professions Council approval. Degree options include:

  • Doctor of Psychology (DPsych, PsyD, PsychD)
  • Doctor of Applied Psychology (DApp Psych)
  • Doctor of Health Psychology (DHealthPsych)
  • Doctor of Clinical Psychology (DClinPsych, ClinPsyD)
  • Doctor of Clinical Science – Psychotherapy (DClinPsy-Psych)
  • Doctor of Counselling Psychology (PsychD, DCounsPsych, DCouns, DCounPsy)
  • Doctor of Educational Psychology (EdPsychD, DEdPsy, DEdPsych)
  • Doctor of Educational and Child Psychology (DEdCPsych), Doctor in Child and Educational Psychology (DEdPsych)
  • Doctor of Applied Educational and Child Psychology (DAppEdChPsych)
  • Doctor of Forensic Psychology (PsychD, ForenPsyD)
  • Doctor of Occupational Psychology (DOccPsych)
  • Doctor of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy (DPsychPsych)
  • Doctor of Child Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy (DChPsychPsych)
  • Doctor of Systemic Psychotherapy (DSysPsych)
  • Doctor of Analytical Psychotherapy (DAnPsych)
  • Doctor of Counselling (DCouns)
  • Doctor of Counselling and Psychotherapy (DCouns & Psych, PsychD)

Business, Finance, Management and Tourism doctorates

These Professional Doctorates tend to provide personal benefits and present a way for what you have learned during your career to be recognised and passed on. The DBA is the best-known. These degrees are not necessarily a stepping stone into, for example, upper management (Bourner, Bowden and Laing, 2010)—although they could help:

  • Doctor of Administration (AdminD)
  • Doctor of Business Administration (DBA)
  • Doctor of Professional Studies (DProf), DrPS)
  • Doctor of Finance (DFin)
  • Doctor of Statistics (DSTAT)
  • Doctor of Public Management (DPM), Professional Doctorate in Public Services Management (DBA [PSM])
  • Doctor of Management (DMan)
  • Professional Doctorate in Public Administration (DPA)
  • Doctor of Public Policy (DPP)
  • Doctor of Public Leadership (DPL)
  • Doctor of Real Estate (DRealEst)
  • Professional Doctorate in Tourism (D Tourism)


The EdD is not required for any post in Education, but this qualification is often sought by school Heads, senior administrators and policymakers in the field. Specialist sub-options may be available.

  • Doctor of Education (EdD)


The DEng conveys professional recognition and definitely has an impact on students’ future employment (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, 2007). There are many sub-categories of the DEng, e.g. Doctor of Engineering in Photonics.

  • Doctor of Engineering (DEng)

Social Sciences

The most typical student on these courses is probably a senior practitioner or administrator in a government or voluntary sector organization. Options include:

  • Doctor of Applied Social Science (DASS)
  • Doctor of Social Practice (DSocPrac)
  • Doctorate of Social Science (DSocSci)
  • Professional Doctorate in Law (LLD)
  • Doctor of Legal Practice (LLD)
  • Doctor of Criminal Justice (DCJ, DCrimJ)
  • Professional Doctorate in Policing and Community Safety (DProf)
  • Doctor of Applied Criminology (DAppCrim)
  • Doctor of Applied Social Research (DASR)

Arts, Architecture and the Built Environment

These degrees are most suitable for senior practitioners:

  • Doctor of Built Environment (DBEnv)
  • Doctor of Spatial Planning (DPlan)
  • Doctor of Construction Management (DConMgt)
  • Doctor of Fine Arts (DArt, DFA)
  • Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA)
  • Doctor of Architecture (DA, DArch)

Theology and Ministry

The importance of a doctorate in this field depends greatly on the denomination and the role sought. Options include:

  • Doctor of Theology (ThD)
  • Doctor of Practical Theology (ThD)
  • Doctor of Ministry, Doctor of Ministry Administration (DMin)

Computer Sciences

Computer science doctorates are increasingly popular in the US. UK options include:

  • Doctorate in Computer Science (DCompSci)
  • Doctorate in Information Systems (DInfoSys)
  • Doctorate in Information Security (InfoSecD)

Veterinary Medicine

Like an MD, these degrees are required to practice:

  • Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM, DVetMed)
  • Doctor of Veterinary Surgery (DVS)
  • Doctor of Veterinary Medicine & Surgery (DVM&S)


Bourner, Tom, Bowden, Rachel, and Laing, Stuart (2010) “Professional doctorates in England,” Studies in Higher Education, 26 (1): pp. 65-83.

Brown, Kathryn and Cooke, Carlton (2010) Professional Doctorate Awards in the UK. Staffordshire: UK Council for Graduate Education.

Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (2007) Report of a Review of the EPSRC Engineering Doctorate Centres. Swindon: EPSRC.

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