What is an MD?What is an MD PhD?MD vs MD PhD: Application Process and EducationMD vs MD PhD: Career Outlook and SalaryWhich is Better? Tips for Choosing Between the TwoFAQs
Former Admissions Committee Member, NYU Grossman School of Medicine
You’re a prospective med student, and you’ve started your preliminary research on how to choose a medical school that will cultivate your interests and teach you the skills needed to be a leader in healthcare. Perhaps you greatly enjoy biomedical research and would like to combine your two passions: practicing medicine and conducting scientific research.
You may have noticed that many medical schools not only offer the traditional Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree but dual degrees as well. One of the most common of these dual degree programs is the MD PhD.
So, what is the MD versus the MD PhD, and how do you choose your best path? This blog will comprehensively review the similarities and differences between the MD and MD PhD degrees, including the application process and the education you can expect to receive for each program.
This blog will also cover important topics such as career outlook and salary. Finally, we will provide tips for choosing between the MD and MD PhD pathways, so that you can make the best decision for your unique career goals.
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What is an MD?
An MD is simply a Doctor of Medicine or physician who obtained their MD degree at an allopathic medical school accredited by the LCME (Liaison Committee of Medical Education). Allopathic medicine focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of disease. When people think of physicians, they generally think of MDs.
To become an MD, you must:
- Earn a bachelor’s degree at an accredited university and complete all required prerequisite courses for medical school. Your pre-med major doesn’t need to be in the sciences, but you need to complete science prerequisite coursework, including labs. Every school has specific requirements regarding which prerequisites to take, so check with the schools to ensure that you fulfill all undergrad requirements. If you need help with selecting and scheduling your prerequisite coursework, connect with a pre-health advisor.
- Take the MCAT and earn a competitive score. The MCAT is one of the most important selection factors for medical schools, and it is a strong indicator of your academic performance. Matriculated students often exceed the school’s minimum required MCAT score, so you should aim to fall within or exceed the school’s median MCAT score. In addition to the MCAT, some medical schools require the CASPer test.
- Graduate from an accredited allopathic medical school. Most MD programs are four years, with a few exceptions. For example, some schools have accelerated MD degrees that you can complete in just three years.
- Complete a residency. Residency programs typically last from three to eight years. Residents perform extensive duties in a clinical setting, such as interpreting charts and lab work, taking patient histories, attending conferences, and conducting physical exams. Residency applicants are matched to programs depending on their personal preferences via the National Resident Matching Program.
- Obtain licensure. MDs must obtain a license to practice medicine by passing the USMLE (United States Medical Licensing Examination). Each state has different requirements to become licensed. For example, some states limit the number of times you can take the USMLE, while other states have no such restrictions on exam attempts.
- Continue your education. Generally, physicians must complete state-required continuing education before renewing licensure every couple of years.
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What is an MD PhD?
An MD PhD is also a Doctor of Medicine who additionally holds a PhD in scientific research. MD PhDs are known as physician-scientists or medical scientists. There are over 100 MD PhD programs affiliated with medical schools, and approximately 40 programs are partially supported by training grants known as MSTPs (Medical Science Training Programs).
Physician-scientists focus on both scientific research/discovery and treating patients in clinical settings. They have the unique skill set to research healthcare topics, including biomedical sciences, biochemistry, cell biology, microbiology, immunology, genetics, physiology, pharmacology, and neuroscience.
In short, MD PhDs blend scientific research with clinical medicine.
To become an MD PhD, you must:
- Complete all of the requirements for medical school to obtain your traditional MD degree.
- In addition to attending medical school for your MD, you must also attend graduate school for your PhD. Because you are completing both programs dually, the duration of your education is seven to eight years (four years for the MD; three to four years for the PhD).
- Complete medical training and conduct mentored, integrated, and mechanism-based research throughout the PhD program and for your thesis.
MD PhD programs actively seek applicants who exhibit the core competencies of entering medical students and have an aptitude for biomedical research. Applicants must have strong critical thinking and analytical skills to conduct and interpret research. Lastly, and most importantly, prospective candidates should have substantial research experience.
MD vs MD PhD: Application Process and Education
The application process for the MD and MD PhD programs is very similar. For most allopathic medical schools, you will use the AMCAS (American Medical College Application Service).
There are exceptions; for example, Texas medical schools use the TMDSAS (Texas Medical & Dental Schools Application Service). As always, follow every school’s individual requirements to use the appropriate application service portals.
In the AMCAS, you will have to select which degree you’re applying to and enter all required information. For the MD program, there are nine sections:
- Sections 1-3 are where you will input background information, such as your name, biographical information, identifiers, and the schools you’ve attended.
- Section 4 is where you will enter your school transcripts and undergraduate coursework.
- Section 5 is the work and activities section where you will enter relevant extracurricular activities, work experience, and appropriate hobbies.
- Section 6 is where you will upload your letters of evaluation.
- Section 7 is where you will enter the school’s information, such as the program to which you’re applying and whether you’re applying for an early decision.
- Section 8 is the personal statement.
- Section 9 is where you will enter your test scores, such as the MCAT.
To apply to the MD PhD program, you will have to complete all nine sections of the AMCAS. Additionally, you will have to complete two additional essays that describe your reasons for pursuing the MD PhD degree and your research experience.
Here is a general idea of what the MD PhD education looks like, year by year, according to the AAMC:
Discover how Patrick got into six fully funded MD/ Phd programs in the video below.
MD vs MD PhD: Career Outlook and Salary
Both MDs and MD PhDs enjoy lucrative, rewarding careers in medicine. Typically, MDs become physicians who practice medicine in hospitals, private practices, clinics, and other medical centers. MD PhDs become physician-scientists, and according to the AAMC, nearly 80% of them follow career paths consistent with their training, which include working in medical schools as faculty members or in other research institutions, such as the NIH (National Institutes of Health) and other federal agencies.
Physician-scientists are highly valued for both their medical training to treat patients and their extensive knowledge of public health, disease, treatment, and hot topics in healthcare. They can work in academia and teach, or they can combine clinical service with independent research. According to the AAMC, over 80% of graduates said that they would choose the MD PhD program again if given the chance. This should give you an idea of how passionate physician-scientists are about biomedical research.
For MDs, depending on their specialty and setting, the average annual salary is around $220k. For MD PhDs, depending on the type of role and place of employment, the average annual salary is about $100k.
Which is Better? Tips for Choosing Between the Two
So, now that you know a bit more about the MD and MD PhD degrees, which is better? To make the best decision for your goals, keep the following tips in mind:
Examine your passions honestly.
Are you excited to work with patients, but research doesn’t motivate you as much? Then you should stick with the traditional MD degree. Students who pursue the MD PhD do so because of their equal passion for clinical medicine and research. Keep in mind that the MD PhD has additional years of school, so it is not a decision that should be made lightly.
Use your experiences and extracurricular activities to guide you.
Think back to your medical shadowing or clinical experience. Compare your insights to your research experience. Which experience was the most rewarding to you? Which did you enjoy the most? Can you see yourself conducting research your entire career? It would be helpful to use your experiences and extracurricular activities as a measure of your interests.
In short, students who don’t absolutely love research should consider pursuing an MD degree, while those who do love research should look into the MD PhD dual degree.
1. What are the top MD programs in the United States?
According to the US News & World Report, the following medical schools consistently rank the highest:
- Harvard Medical School
- Perelman School of Medicine
- Grossman School of Medicine (NYU)
- Johns Hopkins University
- Stanford Medical School
- Columbia University
- Mayo Clinic School of Medicine
- David Geffen School of Medicine (UCLA)
- Washington University
- Cornell University
2. How do I know which MD PhD program is right for me?
Ultimately, you will have to decide for yourself which program is the best fit for your particular interests and career goals. However, take a look at the US News & World Report’s list of signs that an MD PhD program is a great fit:
- There is ample funding.
- The location is desirable for your requirements.
- There is a good balance between clinics and research.
- The school has a history of strong publications/research.
- The program’s academic breadth is multi-disciplinary, ensuring that students will have a good selection of topics to research.
- Clinical training is introduced early in the program.
- There are numerous mentors available to oversee research projects.
- Current MD PhD students are satisfied with their program.
- The program’s alumni perform high-level research and publishing, which is a strong indicator of future success.
- The program’s mission and culture align with your academic and career goals.
3. Can I apply to the MD program and the MD PhD program at one school in the same cycle?
In the AMCAS, you must indicate the program to which you are applying, and it cannot be both for one school in the same application cycle. However, if you indicate that you are applying to the MD PhD program, most schools will first consider you for the dual degree program, and if you are not accepted, they will consider you for the MD program. Please reach out to your selection of schools to learn more about their application procedures regarding dual degrees and final decisions.
4. What topics in healthcare do MD PhDs research?
According to the AAMC, MD PhDs can research various topics in the following disciplines:
- Biochemistry and Macromolecular Biophysics
- Cell and Developmental Biology
- Molecular Biology and Genetics
- Microbiology and Infectious Disease
- Pathology and Mechanisms of Disease
- Bioengineering and Biomedical Imaging
- Chemical and Physical Sciences
- Computational Biology and Bioinformatics
- Public Health, Epidemiology, and Preventative Medicine
- Social and Behavioral Sciences
There may be variations among different programs, so verify with the school before you apply.
5. Is financial assistance available for MD programs?
Generally, yes. The cost of attendance is an important consideration when applying to medical schools. There is federal assistance through FAFSA, in addition to scholarships, grants, and loans. To learn more about financial planning, please reach out to the Student Financial Services office for every school you apply to discuss your options.
6. Is financial assistance available for MD PhD programs?
One of the most significant perks of MD PhD programs is that most either partially cover or completely waive tuition for students. Stipends are also very common to cover the costs of living expenses for students. Because of this, many MD PhDs graduate with little to no debt. Although this shouldn’t be the only deciding factor for pursuing the MD PhD degree (remember to keep your goals in mind), it is a benefit that may spare you from, on average, $200k in debt.
7. What counts as a substantial research experience?
Substantial research experience involves some effort and commitment on your part. Before applying to the MD PhD program, be sure to have multiple summer research projects. You are also encouraged to have one or more years of pursuing research after completing your bachelor’s degree. This may mean that you have to take a gap year to bolster your application with research experience, but don’t worry.
Many students take a gap year for this very reason, to gain relevant experiences and strengthen their application. You should also strive to have publications, and it’s important to list them in your application materials. You must also have experience in accurately testing a hypothesis. It is also important to note that gaining more research experience will strengthen your skills in this field, but you will work with supervisors and mentors who can become potential letter writers for strong letters of recommendation.
8. Where can I find more information about the MD PhD degree?
For more information about the MD PhD degree, please visit AAMC’s MD PhD authority site.
As you can see, both the MD and MD PhD programs will lead to lucrative careers in medicine. Whether you pursue the MD degree or the MD PhD dual degree depends on your interests, motivations, passions, academic goals, and career aspirations. When you’re applying to either program, be sure to follow the medical school’s specific application guidelines and procedures.
Use the correct application service and select the program to which you’re applying. If you’re applying to the MD PhD program, be sure to complete all nine sections of the AMCAS in addition to the two essays that describe your reasons for pursuing the MD PhD program and your research experience.
Make sure your research experience is substantial. It’s important to have a competitive edge over other MD PhD candidates who undoubtedly will have their own strong research experiences and publications. No matter which path you choose, we wish you the best of luck in your efforts.
It would be helpful to use your experiences and extracurricular activities as a measure of your interests. In short, students who don't absolutely love research should consider pursuing an MD degree, while those who do love research should look into the MD PhD dual degree.How do I choose MD or MD PhD? ›
It would be helpful to use your experiences and extracurricular activities as a measure of your interests. In short, students who don't absolutely love research should consider pursuing an MD degree, while those who do love research should look into the MD PhD dual degree.Is MD PhD harder to get into than MD? ›
Overall, it's fair to state that MD-PhD admissions are more difficult than MD admissions. However, because MD-PhD programs so heavily emphasize your research track record, you may be more or less competitive for them depending on your stats and extracurricular profile.Is MD PhD more prestigious than MD? ›
D. is the highest academic degree awarded by universities in most countries. so, unless Md is the highest degree one can earn (which is possible depending on your country), it is less prestigious than Ph. D .Does MD PhD make you more competitive for residency? ›
Short-term, nearly all do additional clinical training. Those who do not are usually headed toward careers at research institutes or outside clinical medicine entirely. Those who do apply for residencies often find that their MD/PhD training makes them particularly appealing to residency programs at top institutions.What specialty is MD-PhD most common? ›
- Internal medicine—25.3%.
The major pitfall of the MD-PhD dual degree for surgical residents is the relatively long gap between completion of research training and the start of the first research job, which could be remedied through completing a postdoctoral fellowship during residency or fellowship.What is the average GPA for MD-PhD? ›
A: In recent years, accepted MD-PhD students have had an average undergraduate GPA of 3.77 with a range of 2.71 to 4.0, and an average MCAT of 515 with a range of 508-524. Students with a weak undergraduate GPA often have done a MS with a strong GPA.What GPA is needed for MD-PhD? ›
There are no specific GPA or MCAT score cutoffs used for admission to the MD/PhD program. However, most successful applicants have a GPA of 3.5 or higher and a cumulative MCAT score in the 80th percentile or higher.What GPA do you need for MD-PhD? ›
|Average MCAT Scores and GPAs for MD-PhDs|
|Salary Range||$200,000 to $400,000||$60,000 to $115,000|
|Industry||Hospitals Clinic Medical Centers Private Practices||Academic Medical Centers Research Institutes Private Practices|
Neurosurgeons can directly touch, alter, and enhance the central nervous system. Though it has one of the most difficult lifestyles, as one might be summoned into a hospital at the last minute to save someone's life, it is an intellectually stimulating and fascinating field with an exciting career.Is MD-PhD worth the time? ›
An MD/PhD does not necessarily put someone 'ahead' of a physician who has just an MD; rather, an MD/PhD leads to a more research-oriented career. Therefore, it is not a matter of which degree is more worth it, but rather a question of what work you prefer to do as a trained physician.How many MD-PhD students drop out? ›
In a survey of 24 MD-PhD programs (Brass et al., 2010), attrition rates were reported to range from 3-34%. In a national cohort study of MD-PhD program enrollees at time of matriculation, the attrition rate was observed to be 27% (Jeffe et al., 2014a).What are the paths after MD-PhD? ›
Most MD-PhD graduates train in a residency program and become licensed to practice in a specific field of medicine. From there, they typically go on to careers that blend research and clinical medicine, though their research topic may or may not be closely related to their field of medical practice.What is the average age to start MD-PhD? ›
24-25 is the average starting age at many med schools, and plenty of MD/PhD applicants take a year or two off before going to med school. You will not be too old to begin an MD/PhD at the tender age of 24.Why is an MD-PhD useful? ›
MD-PhD training efficiently integrates the scientific and medical education of the physician-scientist. During the PhD training years MD-PhD students take the coursework and formal training in research methodology that are important for the development of the research scientist.What are the most common MD-PhD programs? ›
The vast majority of MD-PhD students obtain their PhD in biomedical laboratory fields of study. This includes genetics, neuroscience, and immunology. However, some schools offer research in fields outside of the laboratory in fields such as economics, public health and sociology.Can an MD-PhD see patients? ›
Many MD/PhD graduates go on to work for large research institutions like the NIH and don't see patients at all. Others go on to work in industry, where they become leaders in drug development and draw from both their clinical and research training.How long does MD-PhD take? ›
The average length of time before graduation is 7.5 years; generally students will take 6 years or 8 years depending on the nature of their graduate research.
MCAT and GPA: In 2020-2021, the average GPA for MD-PhD matriculants was 3.8 and the average MCAT was 516.2. Compare this to the average GPA and MCAT of medical school matriculants: 3.73 and 511.5. Acceptance Rate: There were a total of 701 MD-PhD matriculants of 1855 applicants for an acceptance rate of 37.7%.Do MD-PhD students get paid? ›
Most MD-PhD programs support trainees with a stipend and tuition scholarship during medical school and graduate school training.What is a good MCAT score for MD-PhD programs? ›
In recent years accepted MD-PhD students have had an average GPA of 3.897 (standard deviation of 0.106) and an average MCAT score in the 96th percentile (standard deviation of 4.41). The range of GPA for accepted students has been 3.43-4.00 and the range of MCAT percentiles has been 81-100.Is PhD more competitive than MD? ›
It's no secret that both MD PhD and MD programs are extremely competitive, with acceptance rates on average between 1-4%. There are far fewer MD PhD programs available compared with MD programs and the large benefit of reduced or waived tuition makes for even higher competition, especially in MSTPs vs MD programs.Can you do an MD-PhD in 6 years? ›
Since you would be getting two degrees, a MD-PhD program is designed to take 7-8 years, instead of 4 years for medical school and 5-6 years for a PhD. Usually, MD-PhD candidates will spend their first two years doing pre-clinical coursework with MD students.Are MD Phds fully funded? ›
Universities that provide MD-PhD students “full funding” offer all admitted Ph. D. students a financial aid package that includes full tuition and an annual stipend or salary for living expenses for the three to the six-year duration of the student's doctoral studies.How many hours of research needed for MD-PhD? ›
People who are applying for the MD/PhD have to have a lot of research experience, and that will probably include at least two publications. Being one of the first three authors would be good. They probably have about 2,000 hours of research experience before they're applying for the MD/PhD.How hard is it to get into Harvard MD-PhD program? ›
HMS is highly selective, so getting in is no easy task. According to U.S. News, Harvard Medical School ranks in the top 20 hardest medical schools to get into nationwide. The average GPA of matriculants is 3.9, evidencing that high-achieving students have the best shot at admission.What is the acceptance rate for Harvard Med school MD-PhD? ›
The acceptance rate for Harvard Medical School is approximately 3.5%. What is the median GPA and MCAT score for accepted applicants at Harvard Medical School? The median GPA for accepted applicants at Harvard Medical School is around 3.9, and the median MCAT score is 519.Is 3.7 A good GPA in PhD? ›
Most colleges like to see at least a 2.5 or a 3.0 from master's program applicants. Some programs set their minimums at 3.3 or higher. The minimum GPA for a doctoral program may start at 3.3.
Getting into medical school is generally considered to be harder than getting into grad school or a graduate program in other fields. This is particularly true of prestigious medical schools. This is because medical school is highly specialized, with a rigorous curriculum and demanding admissions criteria.What is the highest-paid MD degree? ›
What are the highest-paying doctor jobs? Neurosurgeons, anesthesiologists, and general surgeons are the highest-paid doctors. According to Payscale, neurosurgeons earned an average annual salary of $421,000 as of March 2023. Anesthesiologists made an average of $322,980, while general surgeons earned $296,000.Which MD doctor has highest salary? ›
Surgeons, Gynecologists, and Prosthodontists are the highest-paid doctors in India, with annual salaries averaging INR 1.91 crore, INR 1.77 crore, and INR 1.67 crore, respectively.What is the easiest MD field? ›
Which medical field is the easiest? Phlebotomy is the easiest medical field to get into and to practice. Part of your training can come online, and with an accelerated program, you can be ready for your state licensure exam in under a year. Phlebotomists draw blood and transport it for lab testing.What is the least competitive doctor to become? ›
Generally speaking, some of the least competitive medical fields are psychiatry, internal medicine, and emergency medicine.Do MD Phds go to residency? ›
Most MD-PhD graduates pursue residency and fellowship training and find that their MD-PhD training makes them particularly attractive to residency programs at top academic institutions. In the past, MD-PhD graduates traditionally entered residency programs in medicine, pediatrics, or pathology.Should I take a gap year before MD-PhD? ›
Although taking a gap year is not necessary to apply to MD-PhD programs, they are highly recommended for students who do not have extensive research experience during college, as the application and interviews center around discussion of specific research projects.Can you drop PhD from MD-PhD? ›
If you drop out of an MD-PhD program, some schools require you to pay back the investment that the school made in you. Read each school's policies or talk to the school's admissions office before you decide to apply.What is the failure rate of PhD candidates? ›
Getting a doctorate could be one of your biggest life achievements—provided you can make it to the finish line. Drop out rates vary by discipline, but as many as 50 percent of students don't complete their doctorate.Why do so many people drop out of PhD? ›
While my day job involves trying to help more people finish on time, I also know that choosing to stop can sometimes be the right decision. People stop their PhD for a variety of reasons, including to pursue job opportunities, to focus on external life priorities or simply because they lose interest.
For MDs, depending on their specialty and setting, the average annual salary is around $220k. For MD PhDs, depending on the type of role and place of employment, the average annual salary is about $100k.Is MD-PhD a dual degree? ›
The MD-Ph. D. is a dual doctorate of medicine and philosophy (often referred to as a medical scientist training program) that requires dissertation research in a select field of study in the biological or social sciences.What is the next level after doctorate? ›
Mus.) degree outranking the Doctor of Philosophy degree. The Doctor of Divinity (DDiv) and the Doctor of Civil Law (DCL) are considered by Oxford to outrank all other degrees, including a Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree. The DDiv is usually awarded for academic accomplishments beyond the PhD level.Is it harder to get into MD-PhD than MD? ›
Overall, it's fair to state that MD-PhD admissions are more difficult than MD admissions. However, because MD-PhD programs so heavily emphasize your research track record, you may be more or less competitive for them depending on your stats and extracurricular profile.Is 37 too old to start a PhD? ›
To answer your question straight away: Yes, you can! Since there is no age limit for PhD admission, it's never too late to advance your professional career or your personal fulfillment with an online PhD degree.Is 40 too old to start a PhD? ›
Some of these people were even in their twenties, worried that working for two years after their undergraduate degree had inexorably barred them from the halls of academia. Others were past middle age, looking for a career change. In either case, the answer is ultimately no, it's not too late to get a PhD.Why get a MD-PhD vs an MD? ›
While those with MD PhD and MD degrees are both medical doctors, MD PhD graduates also possess a PhD and are therefore known as physician-scientists or medical scientists. Obtaining this extra degree requires a different program structure and length compared to MD programs.Do you get your MD or PhD first? ›
There are four pathways to become a physician scientist: Complete MD training and then conduct extended research through fellowship training. Complete MD training and then return to graduate school to earn a PhD degree. Complete PhD training and then enter medical school to earn an MD degree.Is it worth getting an MD-PhD? ›
An MD/PhD does not necessarily put someone 'ahead' of a physician who has just an MD; rather, an MD/PhD leads to a more research-oriented career. Therefore, it is not a matter of which degree is more worth it, but rather a question of what work you prefer to do as a trained physician.Is a PhD better then a MD? ›
But here's the most essential difference between the two degrees: PhDs advance knowledge, whereas MDs merely apply existing knowledge. Unlike the MD who does not need to produce any original research, the person earning a PhD must produce original research and write it up in a thesis or dissertation.
Postgraduate training also has lengthened. The average age of MD-PhDs with NIH Research Project Grants (RPGs) was 48 years in 2003 and 52 years in 2012; the average age of first-time MD-PhD RPG holders was 44.3 years in 2012.Why DO people choose DO over MD? ›
Many patients appreciate the holistic approach that DOs offer because it allows for more ways to address symptoms before turning to a prescription or a surgical procedure. And while some MDs may or may not take this approach, all good DOs will, because holistic care is the very foundation of osteopathic medicine.How difficult is an MD-PhD? ›
MD-PhD programs give students a grounding in both clinical training in medicine and research. After successfully completing your program, you will earn both degrees. Like many dual-degree programs, this is an extremely rigorous and challenging route to take.Can I switch from MD to PhD? ›
MD–PhD training takes, on average, 8 years to complete and involves two transitions, an MD-preclinical to PhD-research phase and a PhD-research to MD-clinical phase. There is a paucity of research about MD–PhD students' experiences during each transition.What is a good GPA for MD-PhD? ›
Note: in general, a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher will be competitive for this program. However, applicants with GPA below 3.0 may still apply; applications will be considered on a case-by-case basis, incorporating relevant information from the essay responses which might explain lapses in academic performance.Is MD-PhD too long? ›
Neither of those are shortened beyond the standard time it takes to do them individually, so MD-PhD programs are quite long (8-9 years). A 4-year undergraduate degree is required to apply, so all together (if you don't take any breaks), it's 12-13 years of post-secondary education, not including residency.Do surgeons need a PhD? ›
A prospective surgeon must attend medical school and earn a doctoral degree to practice professionally. Medical schools typically require incoming students to hold a minimum education of a bachelor's degree, although some institutions require an advanced degree.What is the highest degree in doctor? ›
MD, or Doctor of Medicine, is the highest academic degree for surgeons and physicians.What is the highest degree after PhD? ›
Doctor of science
It is considered to be the highest terminal degree in many countries and is often a requirement for academic positions within universities and research institutions. The Doctor of Science requires 6-8 years after obtaining a PhD, and involves rigorous coursework, research, and examinations.