Medical or Dental Doctor of Medicine – how to acquire a medical doctorate in Germany

Doctoral dissertation in medical studies after approbation

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est. 2004

Foreign medical practitioners, as well as German medical students, often face the same problem: standard procedure requires German medical practitioners to acquire their doctor of medicine degree (Dr. med.), yet this is often challenging due to the pressures of everyday professional life. Read here how to acquire the doctor of medicine or doctor of dentistry – after you have completed your studies and entered the clinic.


The Doctor of Medicine degree is a relevant symbol of competence

In Germany and Switzerland holding the title of ‘Dr. med.’ or ‘Dr. med. dent.’ is still essential for medical practitioners. Patients who seek help with medical issues are often afraid and irrational. As they are vulnerable, they want to lay their problems into competent hands – yet medical decisions are often made under time pressure with no room for complicated communication. This is where trust comes in! In social interactionism theory, the doctor of medicine degree signals that the doctor is to be trusted implicitly, even with complex and challenging issues. It bears witness to the doctor’s ability to work hard and achieve professional competence.

In daily life, this implicit trust can help a lot. Whether physicians or dentists seek to open their own office or surgery or strive for an executive function in health care – a medical doctor title is indispensable to achieving professional recognition and career advancement.

However, German approbation does not formally require a medical doctorate. Therefore, some medical practitioners enter the clinic without a doctorate title and then need to acquire their medical doctorate concomitantly to their daily duties in the clinic.

doctoral dissertation as medical postgraduate

after approbation

Approbation and medical doctorate in Germany

German universities offer a medical degree, which is completed by passing the State examination (“Staatsexamen”) and obtaining the license to practice medicine in Germany, called Approbation. This means that German students are not automatically awarded a doctor of medicine degree, as it is optional for graduation. The medical doctorate is considered a separate entity of medical training that entails completing an independent and novel research project. The project can either be obtained parallel to the medical studies (often with the requirement to dedicate one or two semesters fully to research) or following graduation.

Both options pose a challenge for medical graduates, as the studies are packed with compulsive courses and practice sessions that leave little time to engage in research. After graduation, the postgraduates typically enter the clinical practice stage and work full-time in a private practice or clinic. Therefore, there is no perfect time for a medical student to complete a medical doctorate. Many students have no choice but to approach their medical research project later in their career and parallel with their daily work in the clinic.

MBBS, MD, and MD-PhD – are these equivalents to a medical doctorate?

Foreign medical practitioners have often already completed a medical doctorate. However, due to the lack of accreditation regulations, they are not allowed to hold the doctor title – a ‘Dr. med.’ or ‘Dr. med. dent.’ before their name. Others may have a MBBS or an MD. While the MBBS (Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery) is an undergraduate course, the MD (Doctor of Medicine) is a postgraduate course. Despite its name, the MD is not usually comparable to a medical doctorate in Germany because it is structured and taught as a professional degree but not as a research program. Some MD-PhD programs also end in a doctorate, but those are the exception. In Germany, only those can hold the ‘Dr. med.’ or ‘Dr. med. dent.’ title who successfully completed and presented their own medical research.

Both German and foreign medical graduates may face the difficult task of acquiring their doctor of medicine degree after completing their studies while engaging in full-time clinical work commitments and lacking the time or the academic connections to start their own research project.

Finding a medical doctorate project is much like finding a PhD project in other disciplines: aspiring doctors need to find a supervisor willing to support them in their research and guide them through the process. Nonetheless, medical doctoral students face the intrinsic difficulty that the research data they need for their project is generally patient data. Any research on patients underlies severe regulations and must be approved by an ethics committee. On the other hand, literature-based research without an empirical component is rarely deemed sufficient for a medical doctorate.

find a doctorate research project

Becoming a ‘Dr. med.' - how to find a doctorate research project

For medical practitioners who are trained and licensed and are often already busy with professional practice, German regulations for the medical doctorate degree may be frustrating. However, the most crucial task is finding a supervisor willing to welcome external doctoral candidates who are no longer or have never been affiliated with a research institution in Germany. They will also be able to help with the necessary steps forward. Here are some possibilities:

  • Chief physicians in hospitals are often very connected to the academic world, ongoing research, and patient data. Therefore, a research project that fits their interests and study focus may be accepted. The necessary data, the patients’ informed consent, and the ethics committee’s approval are relatively easy to obtain when following the necessary steps.
  • There are also current, specialized research projects at university hospitals – they are often publicly advertised for aspiring doctoral candidates. Mainly, they will require active presence and research work and might reject externals, but not all of them are like this.
  • New friends and old acquaintances: at some point in your career and studies, you might have met someone who is still connected with academia and the world of medical research. Writing a research proposal and sending it out to people of interest within your network may bring success. This might work, for example, if you plan to use data from your own practice. However, on the other hand, getting the research approved might become more difficult.
  • Private universities: there are universities in Germany and Switzerland that accept external doctoral candidates in medicine and dental medicine. They also provide structured courses and the necessary data. They can be expensive, though never as expensive as some US universities. In return, they offer a prestigious learning environment, much support, structural freedom, and a high success rate.

If you need to learn how to start your journey toward a medical doctorate in Germany, ask us for help! We offer specialized coaching to guide your steps until you have found a supervisor for your doctorate research and your research proposal is accepted at a university in Germany or Switzerland. We know whom to write to, how to present your project, and how to deal with the regulations. Ask for our doctorate consulting service – specifically for medical doctorates!


How do you get a doctor of medicine degree in Germany?

The medical doctor title is awarded not to those who complete their professional studies but to those who have successfully conducted and presented their own medical research. The practitioner license, called Approbation, is not a doctoral degree.

Is an MD a doctoral title?

In Germany and Switzerland, only those are allowed to hold the title of ‘Dr. med.’ who have completed a medical Ph.D. This is an additional research program.

Are there external medical doctorates in Germany?

The standard procedure requires completing a course of additional research during your studies so that you may get your medical license and your medical doctorate at the same time. However, if this is not possible, there are ways to be accepted as an external candidate.