First professional degree

First professional degree

A professional degree prepares the holder for a particular profession by emphasizing competency skills along with theory and analysis. These professions are typically licensed or otherwise regulated by a governmental or government-approved body. Areas such as nursing, clinical laboratory science, architecture, law, landscape architecture, qualified marine architect, public policy, medicine, osteopathic medicine, veterinary medicine, chiropractic, engineering, dentistry, psychology, accounting, podiatry, audiology, speech-language pathology, physical therapy, optometry, radiography, pharmacy, social work, or education, among others, often require such degrees for licensing. Professional degrees, often taken as a candidate's second degree after an undergraduate degree in an academic subject, are especially important in the United States. In the United States, many professional degrees are combined with graduate degrees, and some students undertake professional studies after graduate studies (master/doctorate). In some other countries, such as the United Kingdom, the study of vocational subjects at undergraduate level, and post-graduate qualifications outside the academic degree structure, also play a large role in professional training.


In practice

Professional degrees can be awarded as undergraduate or graduate entry degrees (Bachelors, Masters, or Doctorate).

In Europe the first academic degrees were law degrees, and the law degrees were doctorates (see Juris Doctor). The foundations of the first universities were the glossators of the 11th century, which were schools of law. The first university, that of Bologna, was founded as a school of law by four famous legal scholars in the 11th century who were students of the glossator school in that city. The University of Bologna served as the model for other law schools of the medieval age.

The first entry level professional degree to be granted as a clinical doctorate was the MD degree which was granted by the ancient universities of Scotland upon completion of medical school until the mid-19th century when the public bodies who regulated medical practice in the UK at that time required practitioners in Scotland as well as England to uniformly hold the dual Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery degrees (variously abbreviated MB BS, BMBS, MB ChB, MB BChir, and BM BCh etc.). These degrees are still awarded today, with the exception of students graduating from Southampton who are awarded MB only.

The MB or Bachelor of Medicine was also the first type of medical degree to be granted in the United States and Canada. The first medical schools that granted the MB degree were Penn, Harvard, Toronto, Maryland, and Columbia. These first few North American medical schools that were established were (for the most part) founded by physicians and surgeons who had been trained in England and Scotland. North American medical schools switched to the tradition of the ancient universities of Scotland and began granting the MD title rather than the MB mostly throughout the 1800s. Columbia University in New York (which at the time was referred to as King's College of Medicine) was the first American university to grant the MD degree instead of the MB.[1] The MD was the first entry level professional degree to be awarded as a clinical doctorate in the United States. This was nearly sixty years before the first Ph.D. was awarded in the U.S. in 1861.[2]

The Juris Doctor in the US was subsequently established by Harvard University for the same reasons that the M.D. had been established.[3]

Recently there has been a world wide movement to structure professional programs as "graduate-entry" (meaning requiring a previous degree).[citation needed] In countries where professional degrees are undergraduate degrees, graduate-entry undergraduate programs have been established to allow students with a previous bachelors to enter the profession.[4] This movement towards the graduate-entry model reflects an emphasis that has been placed on teaching professional skills at an advanced, intensive level.[5] The switch to graduate entry also allows for a greater diversity of applicants who are more mature and motivated to study at the professional level.[6]

Currently, physical therapy programs in the US are transitioning their entry-level or "first professional degree" from the Bachelors or Masters to a "doctorate" (Doctor of Physical Therapy) as well. Most countries outside the U.S. continue to only award doctorates as higher academic research degrees. Not all faculties in the U.S. have chosen to change their first professional degrees to "doctorates", and many new doctorate level programs are not as long as existing doctorates.[citation needed] For example in the field of architecture, the professional first degree may be either the Bachelor of Architecture or the Master of Architecture while in the field of fine art, its professional first degree is the Master of Fine Arts. There is currently some debate in the architectural community to rename the degree to a "doctorate",.[7] A growing number of universities in the U.S. have developed MPS degrees (Masters of Professional Studies) as a first professional degree before a professional doctorate.

Many of those who obtained their first professional degree outside of the United States (which may be a bachelors) are considered to have an "equivalent" qualification to their doctorate counterpart for professional reasons, but are never permitted to wear the same academic gowns as their U.S. counterparts. Equivalent doesn't equate to right to practice, as many are deemed not equivalent enough to grant a license to practice in the United States. Even in Canada, the medical degree of Doctor of Medicine is considered an undergraduate degree. For example, a British medical degree, the MBBS, is equivalent to the US-MD). An MBBS graduate if licensed to practice medicine in the United States is, in at least one state, allowed to use the "MD" and is referred to as "doctor" because it accurately describes their professional role.[8]

Some first professional degrees (e.g. Juris Doctor, Doctor of Medicine, Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, Doctor of Podiatric Medicine, Doctor of Pharmacy, Doctor of Dental Surgery, Doctor of Optometry, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, and Doctor of Audiology) have the term "Doctor" in the title. While such degrees are considered professional doctorates and are entitled to use the title of "doctor," they are not "equivalent" to the PhD in that PhD students generally complete a longer program that includes the production of a dissertation that adds to the knowledge in the student's field, according to the U.S. Department of Education (2008). In addition, some professional fields offer degrees beyond the first professional degree. For instance, in the United States, in order to earn an LLM, one must have received a JD. Likewise, SJD candidates must generally have an LLM, although in rare circumstances SJD candidates are admitted based on their first professional degree. Also, in the field of dentistry, MSD (Masters of Science in Dentistry) applicants must have a DDS/BDent/DMD/BDS before admission to master's programs in dentistry, and a PhD in Dental Science requires either a MSD or DDS/BDent/DMD/BDS. Joint MD/Ph.D students in the U.S. must be accepted by both the school of medicine and the graduate school of the same institution.

In medicine, the distinction between first professional and advanced degrees depends on geography. Outside North America and Germany, the first professional degree in medicine is a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery (B.M., Ch.B.), (M.B.B.S.), while an advanced professional degree can be a Master of Science (e.g. Surgery), and the terminal academic research degree can be a Doctor of Medicine (non-US MD) or a PhD in a medical science (e.g. Anatomy). To be eligible to apply for an MD degree from a UK or Commonwealth University, one must hold either an MBBS, MBChB, or US-MD degree and have at least 5 years of postgraduate experience. In the United States, the MD and DO degrees differ in that they are both first professional and terminal degrees in allopathic or osteopathic medicine.

In engineering, Bachelor of Engineering and Bachelor of Applied Science degrees are commonly awarded in the UK and Canada respectively, and the Bachelor of Science in an engineering field is awarded in the United States. In several countries the Chartered Engineer and the Incorporated Engineer qualifications represents the final stage of fully qualified professional engineer including both academic and competency components. In South America, the professional title Ingeniero is the first level to qualify as a Professional Engineer. The advanced professional degree usually awarded is the Master of Engineering, although some schools have the option of an Engineer's degree. The terminal academic research degree is the Ph.D., Sc.D. or DEng.[citation needed]

In addition, in the Netherlands, engineering students can earn Bachelor's (usually BSc.) and Master's degrees (usually MSc.). Those wishing to continue their education within the engineering field can continue with academic research in their field (Doctor of Philosophy or Ph.D.) or a professionally applied approach (Professional Doctorate in Engineering or PDEng).[citation needed]

In the United States, a first professional degree in forestry may be awarded at either the Bachelor's or Master's level. Although the majority of forestry schools award a Bachelor's of Science in Forestry, the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, founded in 1901, offer a Master’s degree as the first professional degree in forestry.

Some schools outside the U.S. offer professional doctorates (Pr.D) for part-time students in a broad range of full-time careers. These programs typically require 3–6 years of structured study towards advanced professional practice. Coursework is followed by a professional project that contributes to the students organization, industry or profession.[citation needed]

Professional degrees

In some fields, especially those linked to a profession (e.g. medicine, dentistry, law, architecture, pharmacy, social work, religious ministry, engineering, accounting, education, forestry, etc.), a distinction is to be drawn between a first professional degree, an advanced professional degree, and a terminal academic degree:

  • A first professional degree is generally required by law or custom to practice the profession without limitation.
  • An advanced professional degree provides further training in a specialized area of the profession.

The American DDS and the British BDS are both equivalent prerequisite dental degrees for the MS, MSD, MDSc, etc. (Master of Science) degrees in Dentistry which is a requisite for the Ph.D. in this field.

Some American institutions list the MD and DO degrees as terminal degrees, in addition to being professional degrees because most American Universities don't offer any higher degrees in medicine other than the basic entry level medical degree (MD or DO) . However, the European Research Council does not recognize that the MD (or any other first professional degrees) is the "terminal" (most advanced) degree in Medicine in the US (see Similarly, the US Department of Education states that the MD is a "first professional degree", not a "terminal" degree in this field. In order to be eligible to apply for an MD degree from a UK or Commonwealth University one must hold either an MBBS, MBChB, or an equivalent US-MD degree and have at least 5 years of postgraduate experience (and successfully complete a dissertation and/or have several peer-review publications to be awarded the MD). Other advanced degrees in medicine include the Master of Surgery degree and the Master of Medicine degree.

A first professional degree is an academic degree designed to prepare the holder for a particular career or profession, fields where scholarly research and academic activity are not the work, but rather the practice of a profession.

First professional degrees

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ Landmarks in Yale’s history
  3. ^ Harno, A. (2004) Legal Education in the United States, New Jersey: Lawbook Exchange, page 50.
  4. ^ Graduate Entrant's Programme, School of Medicine and Dentistry, Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry; "Bachelor of Laws (3 Year) Graduate Entry," The University of Notre Dame, Australia.
  5. ^ Albert James Harno.Legal Education in the United States. Lawbook Exchange, NJ 2004.
  6. ^ "Graduate entry medicine: high aspirations at birth", Clinical Medicine, Vol. 7, No. 2, April 2007.
  7. ^ Joanna Lombard. LL.B. to J.D. and the Professional Degree in Architecture. Proceedings of the 85th ACSA Annual Meeting, Architecture: Material and Imagined and Technology Conference, 1997. pp. 585-591.
  8. ^ "Practice, Organization and Interprofessional Issues", Wisconsin Medical Society Policy Compendium 2007.

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