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The practitioner doctorate has gained increasing focus over the past two decades. Historically, the practitioner doctorate has been common within certain domains such as psychology (with the Psy.D.), education (Ed.D.), medicine (M.D.), and law (J.D.). To take psychology as a more recent example, recognition was made between those graduating with a doctorate and who were focused on research (and thus garnered the Ph.D. – Doctor of Philosophy – degree) and those who were focused on clinical application (the Psy.D. – Doctor of Psychology – degree). These two degrees even come from different schools of thought. The Boulder Model, developed in 1949 in Boulder, Colorado American Psychology Association meetings, focused on establishing the Ph.D. incorporating both research and clinical training. In 1976 this model was challenged by the Vail Model, developed during meetings in Vail, Colorado. The Vail Model asserted that most Ph.D. graduates were entering academia rather than focusing on becoming practitioners – therapists. Thus, the Psy.D. doctorate was created, and is maintained as a practitioner doctorate where graduates are seen as scholar-practitioners who are expected to enter the workforce and become a practicing therapist.
A similar movement has occurred in other areas, including nursing and business. Increasing recognition is given to those who wish to pursue a scholar-practitioner route, obtaining the highest degree within their field while gaining practical skills which may be applied to industry-specific settings. Today, nine different types of doctorates are recognized (the Research Doctorate, the Taught Doctorate, the Ph.D. by Published Work, the Professional Doctorate, the Practice-Based Doctorate, the New Route Doctorate, the Two Models of Joint Doctorate, the Cooperative Doctorate, and the Industrial Doctorate; Kehm & Teichler, 2016). The Ph.D. aligns well with the Research Doctorate, while many practitioner doctorates (DBA, Ed.D., Psy.D., etc.) align with the Professional Doctorate.
The Professional Doctorate (noted above as a ‘Practitioner Doctorate’) is most often used in the areas of business administration, medicine and health care, education, engineering, social work and other fields with clearly established fields of professional practice. This degree is focused on training individuals to succeed in a professional practice, including developing skills specific for the workplace. These skills expand beyond research skills and include, depending on the profession, working in groups, balancing budgets, enhanced communication skills, managing and engaging with culturally diverse working groups, and even working in an increasingly global economy. Simply put, students graduating from a Professional Doctorate are ready to apply professional knowledge and skills in the workplace.
There are a number of additional reasons a student may choose the Professional Doctorate. Those who engage the degree are often already working in an industry, and want to expand their knowledge and increase their professional standing. Professional Doctorate degrees tend to be less expensive, with students acquiring less debt over the course of the degree, tend to be shorter in duration than a Research Doctorate, and often graduates have more opportunities for employment after graduating. And, within many nations including the United States, with post-graduate experience Professional Doctorates may even re-engage the academy through mentoring, teaching, and research. Those who re-engage academia as faculty or researchers bring their professional experience and wisdom generated through practical application of theories, models, and skills.
Clearly, the Professional Doctorate has become an important and integral part of doctoral training. It is true that a number of individuals will wish to engage a research-oriented Ph.D. program with a goal of life in academia as a professor and researcher. But it is equally true that many individuals wish to focus not on life as a researcher, instead pursing life as a scholar-practitioner. These individuals – and possibly those of you reading this who are considering a doctorate program – may choose instead to pursue a Professional Doctorate.
Kehm, B. M. & Teichler, U. (2016). "Doctoral education and labor market: Policy questions and data needs." In L. Gokhberg, N. Shmatko, & L. Auriol (Eds.), The science and technology labor force: The value of doctorate holders and development of professional careers (pp. 11-49). AG Switzerland: Springer.