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Recess just ended. You’re a little tired from the intense game of tag you were playing, but your teacher has a fun activity. Everyone is going to tell the class what they want to be when they grow up. One by one students start naming off their ideal jobs and, following the activity, the class is evenly divided into four career groups: athletes, celebrities, moms/dads and doctors. The children who said doctors are most likely picturing the nice person who gives shots and hands out Band-Aids. It can almost be guaranteed that the average first grader isn’t envisioning a person studying somatic psychology.

For many, the title of Doctor means the same thing: a nice individual who wears a white lab coat and stethoscope, healing physical ailments. However, the title of “Dr.” isn’t limited to those fixing our broken bones. In college, the majority of our professors hold the title of “Dr.”. My guess is that the most of us weren’t entirely sure of what a non-medical “Dr.” actually does. Speaking from personal experience, there are many individuals who assume that being called “Doctor” means you can diagnose any physical ailment, and I’m sure our professors can attest to this. However medical degrees and PhDs are two realms of education, and two separate career paths.

Before we delve into the world of PhDs, let’s start with medicine. You may know a fellow student who’s pursuing a career in medicine, and it’s time-consuming. Four years in medical school are followed by multiple years of residency and interning, and then there are years of specialization. As a young adult, committing to those years of education can be daunting. However, if healing others is what you want to do, then you’ll give up anything. Dr. Mark Aschliman, from Elmhurst, IL, knows too well about making sacrifices in the pursuit of a medical degree. Dr. Aschliman gave up a spot on the US Olympic wrestling team to attend medical school at the University of Chicago.

As a child, Dr. Aschliman was brilliant and wanted to become a scientist, but his family convinced him to pursue medicine. During medical school, he took a class on surgery and immediately fell in love. His career as an orthopedic surgeon stemmed from that experience. As he is now retired, Dr. Aschliman can reflect on his experiences as an MD. When asked about a work-home balance, he had a somewhat comical response.

“Work followed by work followed by more work,” says Dr. Aschliman. “I worked every other weekend and took emergency room calls every other night for ten years. There was minimal home time”. Although the work was extremely difficult, Dr. Aschliman is loving retirement. “I can’t change my career choice, although it made me unhappy sometimes. The life I have now is because of all the work I did. I’m retired and loving every minute of it.” Based on Dr. Aschliman’s experience, it’s clear that being a Medical doctor is no easy task. Becoming an MD requires many years of schooling and work, at the cost of personal time and financial cost as well.

In college, it’s almost guaranteed that we will encounter a faculty member with a PhD. Doctorates can be achieved in nearly every subject, ranging from astrobiology to thanatology (the study of death). Personally, I’ve had a PhD teaching at least one of my classes each semester. These individuals are highly intelligent in their field, whether it be religion, biology or art. Doctorates are awarded following the completion of a graduate school program and a dissertation. The average length of graduate school is four to seven years, however, that can vary based on schools, field of study and outside interruptions. A dissertation is similar to a senior thesis, the capstone of four years at Carthage College. While the details differ based on school and field, the three basic steps are the same: initial proposal, research/data collection and presentation/defense. Following a successful oral dissertation defense, the graduate student has earned a doctorate.

Individuals with a doctorate are often found within an educational setting. They may be teaching courses full-time or part-time, and often participate in research. As a biology major, all of my professors have also conducted research at one point. They utilize student researchers to complete studies and help within the labs. However, a PhD isn’t required to teach or do research. You can find individuals with doctorates in a wide range of places: museums, news stations, political campaigns and architectural firms. Typically, PhDs will have a nine to five workday, considering they have ‘normal’ jobs that don’t require an on-call pager.

Although we were all bright young students, I’m sure we weren’t implying a Ph.D. in astrobiology when we exclaimed we wanted to be doctors. The difference between MDs and PhDs can be very big when comparing education, work commitments and variety. Both fields are using their education to benefit society, but they vary in how that’s completed. MDs spend long hours at the hospital, healing physical ailments, while PhDs are using their knowledge to broaden minds. Doctors, in both senses of the word, are making the world a better place, but they each have separate ways of doing it. With that being said, remember the difference, don’t ask your family physician about his critique of Greek socioeconomic classes, and don’t ask your History professor if he can check out the mole on your back!

Rep image courtesy of Pexels

Meredyth is a senior at Carthage College majoring in Biology. She is from Pleasant Prairie, Wiscosin, which makes her morning commute a short 15 minutes. When she's not working in the lab on zebrafish and bacteria, Meredyth can be found spending time with her friends, reading mystery novels, or taking pictures for her Instagram.
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