Typical Medical Doctor

Doctor is the highest academic title awarded to university graduates.


The title Doctor (Dr.) is awarded to university graduates demonstrating intensive knowledge in a particular field of a subject. It is also used to refer to medical practitioners allowed to administer medical care without supervision - although this is not its proper meaning. Often, the title Doctor is earned through a demonstration of expertise such as a new and unique contribution through scientific research or a more practical demonstration of knowledge through a comprehensive exam or evaluation.


The doctorate (Latin: doceō, I teach) appeared in medieval Europe as a license to teach (Latin: licentia docendi) at a medieval university.[2] Its roots can be traced to the early church when the term "doctor" referred to the Apostles, church fathers and other Christian authorities who taught and interpreted the Bible. The right to grant a licentia docendi was originally reserved to the church which required the applicant to pass a test, take an oath of allegiance and pay a fee. The Third Council of the Lateran of 1179 guaranteed the access – now largely free of charge – of all able applicants, who were, however, still tested for aptitude by the ecclesiastic scholastic. This right remained a bone of contention between the church authorities and the slowly emancipating universities, but was granted by the pope to the University of Paris in 1213 where it became a universal license to teach (licentia ubiquie docendi). However, while the licentia continued to hold a higher prestige than the bachelor's degree (Baccalaureus), it was ultimately reduced to an intermediate step to the Magister and doctorate, both of which now became the exclusive qualification for teaching.

The earliest doctoral degrees (theology, law, and medicine) reflected the historical separation of all university study into these three fields. Over time the D.D. has gradually become less common and studies outside theology, law, and medicine have become more common (such studies were then called "philosophy", but are now classified as sciences and humanities – however this usage survives in the degree of Doctor of Philosophy).

The Ph.D. was originally a degree granted by a university to learned individuals who had achieved the approval of their peers and who had demonstrated a long and productive career in the field of philosophy (in the broad sense of the term, meaning the pursuit of knowledge). The appellation of "Doctor" (from Latin: teacher) was usually awarded only when the individual was in middle age. It indicated a life dedicated to learning, knowledge, and the spread of knowledge.

The Ph.D. entered widespread use in the 19th century at Friedrich Wilhelm University in Berlin as a degree to be granted to someone who had undertaken original research in the sciences or humanities. From there it spread to the United States, arriving at Yale University in 1861, and then to the United Kingdom in 1921. This displaced the existing Doctor of Philosophy degree in some universities; for instance, the D.Phil. (higher doctorate in the faculty of philosophy) at the University of St Andrews was discontinued and replaced with the Ph.D. (research doctorate). However, some UK universities such as Oxford and Sussex (and, until recently, York) retain the D.Phil. appellation for their research degrees, as, until recently, did the University of Waikato in New Zealand.

Historically, lawyers in most European countries were addressed with the title of doctor, and countries outside Europe have generally followed the practice of the European country which had policy influence through modernization or colonization. The first university degrees, starting with the law school of the University of Bologna (or glossators) in the 11th century, were law degrees and doctorates. Degrees in other fields were not granted until the 13th century, but the doctorate continued to be the only degree offered at many of the old universities up until the 20th century. As a result, in many of the southern European countries, including Portugal, Spain and Italy, lawyers have traditionally been addressed as “doctor,” (as well as Macau in China).

The title of doctor for attorneys has not customarily been used in English-speaking countries where lawyers were not required to have a university degree and were trained by other attorneys by apprenticeship or in the Inns of Court. The exception being those areas where, up to the 19th century, civil law rather than common law was the governing tradition, including admiralty law, probate and ecclesiastical law, such cases were heard in the Doctor's Commons, and argued by advocates who held degrees either of doctor of civil law at Oxford or doctor of law at Cambridge. As such, lawyers practicing common law in England were not doctoral candidates and had not earned a doctorate. When university degrees became more common for those wanting to qualify as a lawyer in England, the degree awarded was the legum baccalaureus, or bachelor of laws, which is abbreviated LL.B.

In some countries, holders of the first law degree traditionally use the title of doctor (for example, Peru, Brazil, Macau, Portugal, Argentina, and Italy).


  • doctor (noun)
    • c. 1300, "Church father," from Old French doctour, from Medieval Latin doctor "religious teacher, adviser, scholar," in classical Latin "teacher," agent noun from docere "to show, teach, cause to know," originally "make to appear right," causative of decere "be seemly, fitting" (see decent). Meaning "holder of highest degree in university" is first found late 14c.; as is that of "medical professional" (replacing native leech (n.2)), though this was not common till late 16c. The transitional stage is exemplified in Chaucer's Doctor of phesike (Latin physica came to be used extensively in Medieval Latin for medicina). Similar usage of the equivalent of doctor is colloquial in most European languages: Italian dottore, French docteur, German doktor, Lithuanian daktaras, though these are typically not the main word in those languages for a medical healer. For similar evolution, see Sanskrit vaidya- "medical doctor," literally "one versed in science." German Arzt, Dutch arts are from Late Latin archiater, from Greek arkhiatros "chief healer," hence "court physician." French médecin is a back-formation from médicine, replacing Old French miege, from Latin medicus.
  • doctor (verb)
    • 1590s, "to confer a degree on," from doctor (n.). Meaning "to treat medically" is from 1712; sense of "alter, disguise, falsify" is from 1774. Related: Doctored; doctoring.

Doctor as a Noun

Throughout much of the academic world, the term "doctor" refers to an individual who has earned a degree of Doctor of Philosophy, or Ph.D. (an abbreviation for the Latin Philosophiæ Doctor; or alternatively Doctor philosophiæ, D.Phil., meaning Teacher of Philosophy), or other research doctorate such as the Doctor of Science, or Sc.D. (an abbreviation of the Latin Scientiae Doctor). Beyond academia, many professions, such as law and medicine, have developed professional degrees that rank lower on the UNESCO International Standard Classification of Education, such as the Juris Doctor J.D., Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) (an abbreviation of the Latin Medicinæ Doctor).


Professional Titles Dr.

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