Apples to Apples: Comparing Doctor of Medical Science Degrees

As I’ve been considering furthering my education over the last few years, I made the following grid to keep track of new PA doctorates across the country.

This chart is not a comprehensive representation of my research and thus isn’t entirely reflective of my decision-making process but it highlights a few important points:

How I Choose My DMS Program

  • Degree
    • The DMS/DMSc is the newest doctoral degree for PAs with varying degrees of clinical relevance. It also represents a move toward a new identity as a doctoral-level practitioner. Contrast that with the Doctor of Science in Physician Assistant Studies (DScPAS) from Massachusetts College of Health Professions. I would find it hard to take a “Doctor of Assisting Someone Else” very seriously. 
  • Curriculum
    • I’m going back to school to be a better clinician. Period. I’m not interested in healthcare law, policy, or disaster preparedness. Those are no doubt interesting and helpful courses for those in public health but they won’t help me better care for my patients. I wanted a clinical doctorate and so the curriculum had to be obviously clinical.
  • School
    • I wasn’t/am not very concerned with a school’s reputation as long as they have a solid program. Most of the listed programs are associated with a school that also offers a Master’s-level PA program, but only one is associated with a medical school: Lincoln Memorial University.* 
  • Cost
    • This is a no-brainer, right? Cost matters. Degree creep is real and a real moneymaker for universities. LMU’s program is among the most expensive but, as I’m hoping to demonstrate here for the benefit of all who might question this decision, I think it’s worth it. 
  • Duration
    • This one is pretty straightforward as well. While I naturally wanted something manageable, I was willing to go as long as needed. I have considered several traditional PhD programs, up to 4 years in length, but none would have made me a better clinician. I also considered returning to medical school but only one (LECOM) offers PAs advanced standing.
  • Residency requirements
    • AKA “on-campus” requirements. A hallmark of yesterday’s correspondence courses was the ability to “complete your degree at home, through the mail”. While that may have been suspect in years past, distance learning is common if not preferable today. Between MOOCs (massive open online courses) and intimate virtual classrooms, there is little reason to believe that e-learning is less effective than on-campus learning for most subjects. Most major universities have at least some online offerings. But it’s not perfect as some skills simply need to be observed, practiced, and critiqued in person. A hybrid program offers this opportunity. 
  • Miscellaneous
    • I am personally interested in medical writing and informatics but didn’t make it very far in this part of my research. I had also considered a few healthcare-specific MBAs and you can see how they stack up at the bottom of the chart. 

*Since this article was first published, ATSU and SIU have launched DMSc programs.

4 Comments

  1. cve

    I’d update the Rocky Mountain University section to show that it IS clinically focused, depending on the tract. I finished mine in Psych there, and it was very much clinically relevant/focused

    • We would be happy to do that but all we have to go on is the published curriculum, which at our last review wasn’t convincing. For example, the psych track had only 3 classes (9 credits) that appeared to be directly relevant to clinical practice. We don’t feel that having *some* clinical content merits the designation of a “clinical degree”.

      If we are mistaken, please help us understand. We really want the DMS remain something clinicians can be proud of.

  2. CHRIS VAN EYCK

    Sure-no idea about the other tracts, but I will say for Psych:

    I had probably 6 classes specifically in Psych, with a course project that could/was based in Psych. I needed to submit treatment plans, both to the classroom, as well as instructor, and defend my decisions. Lots of teaching. Lots of reading. Definitely clinically-focused

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