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June 22 2011

Physician Assistants—One Less Doctor(ate) in the House

JAMA. 2011;305(24):2571-2572. doi:10.1001/jama.2011.877

In recent years, numerous allied health professions have adopted or are planning to adopt clinical or practice doctorates. Although some have transitioned to an entry-level doctorate (eg, pharmacy and physical therapy) and others (eg, nursing) recognize the doctorate as an advanced practice degree, the professions' goals are the same—to replace the master's degree with a profession-specific doctoral degree.1,2 Allied health care clinicians with these degrees now practice, or will soon practice, as “doctors” alongside their physician colleagues. These clinicians function as competent and effective members of the health care team and had done so before obtaining doctoral degrees. So why make the move to a doctorate? Those in favor argue that a doctorate improves professional image,1,3 promotes more autonomous practice,3,4 and serves as an appropriate response to advancing technologies and the increasing complexity of health care.1,3 Others argue that doctorates may confuse patients, that they represent “degree creep,” and that doctoral degrees are sought largely for professional status rather than for issues related to clinical competence and market demand.3,4