What is a Doctor of Medicine (MD)?

Want to know the difference between Doctor of Medicine (MD) and other medical degrees? Read our article below to find out!
Elliot DE
Elliot DE
Medical Doctor, Law Graduate & current PhD Student

For all of you budding medical professionals out there, this is an important question. In the past decade or so, there has been several name changes that have occurred with regards to the degree that has been required to pursue a medical career. This article will explain these changes, break down the underlying reasons, and ultimately inform you as to what exactly a Doctor of Medicine (MD) is!

When you go and see your local general practitioner, you may notice (either on their door, name badge, or desk) the acronym ‘MBBS’ after their name. This stands for the Latin phrase Medicinae Baccalaureus, Baccalaureus Chirurgiae; otherwise known, in English, as Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery. While most medical professionals currently in practice gained their qualification by completing a 6-year MBBS, by the early 2000s, the MBBS course had evolved into 5- and 4-year (graduate-entry) programs across Australia. To gain registration as a medical practitioner in Australia, an individual must hold a primary medical qualification from an accredited university. Traditionally, the MBBS degrees, an Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) level 7 degree, had been the primary medical qualification. However, this is now not the case.

Since 2011, Australian universities have shifted away from the traditionally awarded medical degrees to a Doctor of Medicine (MD) program, recognised as an AQF level 9 (Masters level) degree. The MD now stands for the Latin Medicinae Doctor. These changes were mostly facilitated through the expansion of existing research components within the medical degrees, to fulfil the AQF Masters (Extended) requirements. However, the Australian Medical Council (governing body for medical school registration in Australia) has largely found no major change in the course structure between MBBS and MD. And from being in both an MBBS and then an MD program myself (at Griffith University), there is little practical difference between the two; indeed, the ‘increased’ research component in the MD programs are in no way reflective of what may occur in traditional Masters degrees.

To understand why the MD degree has been suddenly introduced by all universities in Australia, it requires a deeper analysis that goes further than just an aligning of terminology between Australia and the United States. In January 2009, the federal government phased out and then banned domestic full-fee-paying places for undergraduate programs in Australia. By changing medical degrees to a masters-level qualification, Australian Universities have been able to circumvent this ban, and have been able to charge students more for the MD degree than it ever could for the MBBS. As an extreme example of this, the new Macquarie University medical program will cost domestic students $64,000 per year, totalling $256,000. International students will have to fork out $280,000 over the four years.

Another issue with the introduction of the MD degree is that prior to this qualification, the Doctor of Medicine, as it was previously known, was a higher doctorate (AQF level 10) of equal or higher standing than a Doctor of Philosophy, offered by universities to a small number of highly distinguished researchers. It was considered the premier research degree awarded in medicine. With the introduction of the MD representing the standard degree required for medical training, the aura around this research qualification has certainly decreased, and the significance of the ‘MD’ title certainly has too.

We will discuss how exactly one enters into the MD degree program in a later article, but generally the post-graduate entry pathway is into a 4-year full-time course (it is only available on a full-time basis), and you will need to have completed a bachelor’s degree and usually the Graduate Australian Medical Schools Admissions Test (GAMSAT). To learn more about this exam you can click here. There are differing requirements between the universities as to exactly what undergraduate studies you need to have completed, but we will cover this in the future.

I hope that this blog post has clarified what exactly the MD degree is, and the background to its emergence as the degree for medical training in Australia!

Elliot DE is a current Medical Doctor & Law Graduate. He is also a GAMSAT Biology Tutor at GradReady GAMSAT Preparation.