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PhD vs. Doctorate Degree: Benefits and Differences


Whether  conducting studies to test the effectiveness of online teaching strategies or translating cutting-edge research into life-saving nursing practices, those with terminal degrees work at the top of their professions. As the pinnacle academic qualification offered within an area of study, terminal degrees prepare individuals to lead in their fields.


Considering whether to pursue a terminal degree, such as a Doctor of Education (EdD), Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), or Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)? It’s important to first understand the differences between a PhD and other doctorate degrees and the purpose that each serves.

What Are Doctorate Degrees, and Why Are They Beneficial?

A doctorate is a terminal degree that prepares individuals to take the knowledge they’ve developed in a subject area and apply it professionally. In other words, the degree focuses on helping professionals discover the practical applications of theory and research.


For example, a DNP can train individuals to translate medical research into improved nursing practices, which they then apply as nurse leaders. An EdD can empower people to take educational theories and integrate them into the curricula they develop or the teaching practices they use.


Those interested in pursuing doctorate degrees to level up their professional practice have many options. Today, many universities offer  online doctorate degrees that allow professionals greater access and flexibility to achieve their goals.


For example, nursing professionals can select from various online DNP degrees designed to propel them to the top of their profession. These include programs for psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners, adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioners, pediatric nurse practitioners, and others.


What can you do with an EdD? Educators considering doctorate programs can explore degrees, such as an online EdD in Higher Education Leadership, that prepare graduates to excel as academic deans, education consultants, or university presidents.

Doctorate Degree Benefits

Earning  a doctorate degree offers numerous benefits, starting with improved job security. The labor force participation rate of doctorate recipients was 86.8% in 2021, compared to the national average of about 62%, according to the National Science Foundation.


Doctorate degree holders can also have greater earning potential than their counterparts. BLS data indicates that those with a doctorate degree earned a median annual salary of about $100,000 in 2021.  That’s about 21% more than the earnings of master’s degree holders and around 43% more than the earnings of bachelor’s degree holders.


In addition to enjoying job security and higher salaries, doctorate degree holders have credibility, which can translate into leadership roles and greater authority in their field.

What Is a PhD, and What Are Its Benefits?

A PhD degree is a type of doctorate degree that prepares individuals to conduct high-level research in a specific field. Typically associated with administration and academia, the PhD degree empowers individuals to conduct original research that contributes to the overall body of knowledge in a particular area.


University professors, researchers, and scholarly writers typically hold PhD degrees in fields ranging from the hard sciences to the humanities. In addition to training individuals to conduct original research, a PhD prepares scholars in a discipline to critically evaluate theories, locate gaps in bodies of research, and assess the validity of emerging ideas.

PhD Benefits

Like other doctorate degrees, a PhD offers excellent job security, earning potential, and credibility. Additionally, a PhD can equip individuals to be forward-thinking leaders, performing research that advances their field. It also positions individuals to make a significant impact in a discipline through teaching and mentoring the next generation of experts.

PhD vs. Doctorate Degree: The Differences

While the PhD and other doctorate terminal degrees share similar characteristics, they differ in notable ways.


To begin with, the degrees employ distinct methods of study. PhD programs focus on preparing candidates to conduct original research. Other doctorate programs include research but are much less intensive. Instead, these doctorate programs concentrate on cultivating subject matter expertise for practical application.


For example, PhD students in nursing could conduct research that seeks to answer questions or find solutions to problems in nursing care. This could involve conducting randomized controlled trials to determine the effectiveness of a new method for dressing wounds after cardiac care.


In turn, DNP students could take the evidence from that research to develop a method for implementing the new wound dressing practice in clinical settings. The DNP students could also develop a process for assessing the effectiveness of that implementation.


Individuals who are interested in academics or research and are motivated by the prospect of making discoveries in their field will likely find PhD programs appealing. On the other hand, those inspired by opportunities to advance in their professional fields and put evidence into practice will likely find other doctorate degrees, such as an EdD or a DNP, a better fit.


Strive for the Top of Your Profession Today


Terminal degrees, such as a PhD or doctorate, are respected and prestigious. When planning your education and professional career path, understanding the distinctions between different terminal degrees and how they can each contribute to society’s body of knowledge and help it progress and thrive is important.


To learn more, explore the array of online degree programs at Maryville University, designed to support graduates reaching for the pinnacle of their professions.


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