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What's The Difference Between A Doctor And A Professor?

What’s The Difference Between A Doctor And A Professor?

Updated on: December 3, 2023
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Written By Dr Ollie

Every article is fact-checked by a medical professional. However, inaccuracies may still persist.

You don’t have to survive five or more years of medical school to become a doctor. Anyone with a doctorate (PhD) can go by the prefix doctor (also spelt Dr.). But what’s the difference between a doctor and a professor?

A doctor can be someone with a doctorate (a PhD) or a medical professional (an MD). But a professor is an academic who teaches post-secondary and graduate students. Some professors have a PhD in their field, but others may hold a master’s degree instead.

Let’s examine these titles and positions to discover how they differ. That way, you’ll have a doctorate-level understanding of the differences between doctors and professors.

What Makes A Doctor A Doctor?

Two things make a doctor a doctor. The first thing is a doctoral degree, also called a PhD. The second thing that makes a doctor a doctor is a master’s level medical degree (Doctor of Medicine). 

So, if you completed a doctoral degree in engineering (Doctor of Engineering), you could start asking your friends and family members to refer you to you as a Doctor. But if you finished medical school and earned a Doctor of Medicine, you could also go by Doctor [Your Name Here].

What Makes Someone A Professor?

A professor is someone who teaches post-secondary education to college and graduate students. Most professors are considered experts in their field, with many years of research and study under their belt.

Notably, many professors hold doctorate degrees. As such, they may opt to go by Doctor instead of Professor. However, because the title of Professor has greater weight than Doctor, many tenured professors prefer to go by Professor [Last Name] instead of Doctor [Last Name].

The Difference Between Medical Doctors And Professors

The difference between medical doctors and professors is significant. After all, medical doctors are responsible for keeping people healthy, whereas professors are responsible for educating students and performing in-depth research.

Still, let’s take a closer look at these types of professionals to learn more about how they differ.

Medical Doctors Vs. Professors: Education

You might need to spend six or seven years in post-secondary education to become a professor. However, you’ll need to spend between 11 and 15 years in college and medical school to become a medical doctor.

After all, medical doctors have the lives of patients in their hands. One wrong move or diagnosis could result in death or a medical malpractice lawsuit. For these reasons, students training to become medical doctors require several years of additional study and hands-on education.

A professor lecturing a class of students

But while it might be a little easier to become a professor, those who invest the time and energy to become medical doctors are bound to enjoy their post-schooling salary.

Medical Doctors Vs. Professors: Salary

Medical doctors and professors may spend the same amount of time pursuing post-secondary and post-graduate education. But when they enter the workforce, they earn very different salaries.

A physician’s average annual salary is about £76,000, but a professor’s annual salary is almost half. Additionally, professors without tenure or much teaching experience can earn as little as £26,000 per year.

Essentially, most medical doctors out-earn professors.

Medical Doctors Vs. Professors: Duties

When it comes to occupational tasks and duties, the differences between medical doctors and professors could not be more apparent. 

Medical doctors care for their patient’s health and wellbeing, diagnosing illnesses and administering treatments. They also continually research emerging medical trends and diseases, keeping them up to date with new practices and treatment options.

If you want to see what a typical day in the life of a medical doctor is like, check out this article on the duties of a junior doctor.

However, most professors don’t share these duties. Instead, most professors are responsible for educating. These individuals create and give lectures, structure classes and exams, and mentor post-graduate students.

Still, a medical doctor who teaches medical students fulfils all of these duties.

The Difference Between PhD Doctors And Professors

Now that we’ve fully explored the differences between medical doctors and professors, let’s examine the difference between PhD doctors and professors.

PhD Doctors Vs. Professors: Education

Though professors are often some of the most learned and studious individuals, not all professors hold a PhD in their chosen field of study. Some professors have a master’s degree instead.

To get a master’s degree, you’ll have to finish at least four years of undergraduate study, earn your bachelor’s degree, and then pursue another two to three years of post-graduate education. But to get a PhD, you might need to spend between four and six years as a post-graduate student.

Students studying in the library

Consequently, those with a PhD may be better educated, or, at least, will have been in school for a longer period than professors without a doctoral degree.

PhD Doctors Vs. Professors: Salary

Professors and individuals with doctoral degrees tend to earn a similar annual salary. Naturally, precise salary estimates vary depending on the person’s field of study and location. For example, someone with a Ph.D. in law might earn between $186,000 and $370,000 each year in the US.

But this range applies to individuals who are working as general counsel.

On the other hand, a Professor of Law with the same degree might only earn between $64,000 and $170,000 each year. Still, the average annual salary for someone with a Ph.D. is about $98,000.

PhD Doctors Vs. Professors: Duties

Individuals with a PhD are typically involved in the academic and research areas of their field, which is why many doctors with a PhD end up becoming tenured professors. Still, the specific duties that a PhD doctor undertakes can vary from a professor’s duties.

Generally, professors are responsible for creating course curriculums, giving lectures, instructing students, and grading student work. Many professors are also actively engaged in ongoing research related to their field. 

They may also mentor specific students, particularly graduate students engaged in high-level research.

However, someone with a PhD might have different occupational duties, depending on their field. For example, someone with a PhD in engineering might decide to teach engineering at a university. 

Or they might also use their degree to obtain a position as a well-paid engineer.

Final Thoughts

Doctors and professors differ in several ways. 

Medical doctors work with patients in the healthcare industry, but those who hold the title of Doctor aren’t always healthcare professionals. That’s because anyone with a doctorate degree can go by Doctor.

Someone with the title of Professor is a highly educated master of their subject matter. While some professors may have doctorate degrees, not all do. However, a professor with a PhD may go by Professor or Doctor.

About the author
After studying medicine at the University of Leicester, Dr Ollie now works as a junior doctor in London. His interests include medical education and expedition medicine, as well as having a strong belief in the importance of widening access to medicine.