Friday, May 3, 2013

Is a Ph.D. a real doctor?

Are you writing a science thriller?  What about a mystery with a forensic component?  If you're seeking advice from an expert in the sciences, look no farther than Katrina Stone, professional biologist and protagonist of "The Vesuvius Isotope."  To learn more about Katrina's areas of expertise or to ask a question of your own, click here.  Below, a reader asks:

Is a Ph.D. a real doctor? 

Katrina's answer(s):

My favorite answer:  Yes a Ph.D. is a real doctor!  A Ph.D. really went to school for a really long time! 

A fair answer:  A Ph.D. is not a "doctor" as you might think of one.  A Ph.D. biologist does not see patients, has limited training in anatomy and cannot prescribe medicine.  Drug discovery scientists, usually carrying Ph.D.s rather than M.D.s, design and physically generate the medicines that “real” doctors prescribe. 

The technical answer:  Anyone with a Ph.D. (in ANY field) officially carries the title of “doctor”, just like anyone with an M.D. (medical doctor), D.V.M., (doctor of veterinary medicine), D.D.S. (doctor of dental surgery) or any other “doctorate” degree.  A professor at a university carries a Ph.D. and thus is technically a doctor, but is frequently referred to instead as “professor.” 

Ph.D.stands for "doctor of philosophy", which really annoys me as it's completely misleading. Philosophy is a subject I know nothing whatsoever about.

For the record, a Ph.D. goes to school longer than an M.D. and then usually makes less money.  But we have way more fun and are not on call.  It’s a good life… 

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