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What Is a Professional Doctorate?

A professional doctorate is a doctoral-level degree for experienced professionals who want to translate their industry expertise into a higher position of credibility, leadership, and influence in their profession. Although PhD programs and professional doctorate programs share many similarities, there is a fundamental difference between the programs when it comes to the independent research phase.

Doctoral Study for Professional Doctorate Programs

A professional doctorate program recognizes your practical work experience and mastery of areas, such as business administration, social work, or information technology. Consequently, your doctoral research focuses primarily on applying existing theories and knowledge to solving a real-world problem. By comparison, PhD students focus on developing new ideas, perspectives, and theories that add to the body of knowledge in their field.

What Is a Professional Doctorate?

As a professional doctorate program student, you will learn research methods, plan your research, and present your findings in a scholarly paper called a doctoral study. The study’s purpose is to make an original contribution to your field by creating a practical solution to a real problem in the workplace. The study identifies the problem, presents your methodology, describes your project, and highlights observations about your findings and your practical solution. The doctoral study’s components demonstrate your competence in research, subject matter expertise, and your command of critical thinking and academic writing.

Research Dissertation for PhD Programs

By comparison, the main purpose of an online PhD program is to develop advanced research skills and create new knowledge to share with other professionals in your field by means of rigorous research and a dissertation. The culmination of the doctoral program consists of:

  • An oral defense of your research dissertation to the doctoral committee.
  • A final research dissertation which identifies the research problem, provides a literature review, defines your research methods, reveals your findings, and ends with a summary, conclusions, and implications.

Online Professional Doctorate vs. PhD Program

Which is best for you? It depends on your career aspirations. A PhD program from an online university may be best if you want to:

  • Participate in a traditional doctoral dissertation that results in a scholarly paper.
  • Expand your knowledge and expertise in a specific area with an emphasis on academic research.
  • Publish research as an expert author.
  • Transition into a faculty teaching position in higher education.
  • Serve as a leader and expert within your organization.

An online professional doctorate may be a better choice if you want to:

  • Deepen your understanding of the functional disciplines of your profession.
  • Participate in action research based on real-world issues related to your current work.
  • Provide practical solutions and to current problems.
  • Serve as an authority and leader in your profession.
  • Promote positive change in your industry.

Types of Professional Doctorates

Walden University offers several accredited online professional doctoral programs:

  • Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) features a choice of 11 specializations, from Accounting to Healthcare Management.
  • Doctor of Education (EdD) features a choice of thirteen specializations, including Educational Administration and Leadership, Special Education, Higher Education and Adult Learning, and much more.
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) is a general professional doctorate program.
  • Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) features two options: Track I which is a faster track if your master’s degree is in public health, or Track II if your master’s degree is not in public health.
  • Doctor of Social Work (DSW) features three specializations, including Advanced Clinical Practice and Supervision, Impact Leadership in Social Work Administration, and Social Work Education.

Your Doctoral Journey

Earning a doctorate won’t be easy, but as the No. 1 granter of doctoral research degrees in the U.S.,1 Walden knows what it takes. We’ll guide you every step of the way with a comprehensive suite of support resources designed to help you confidently pursue the finish line. Learn more about the many benefits of beginning your doctoral journey at Walden.

Explore Walden University's online professional doctorate degree programs and change your future faster! Earn your degree at a pace that fits your life and schedule.

1Source: National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Integrated Postsecondary Education Database (IPEDS) database. Based on the most recent year of completions survey data available, using all classifications of instructional programs (CIP) codes. A doctoral research degree is a PhD or other doctoral degree that requires advanced work beyond the master’s level, including the preparation and defense of a dissertation based on original research or the planning and execution of an original project demonstrating substantial artistic or scholarly achievement. Available at https://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/use-the-data. (Retrieved January 2021; may consist of or include provisional release data.

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