The Difference Between the 5 Popular Medical Degrees

So you want to be a doctor. Congratulations! You’re already on your way! Here comes the hard part. Everytime you look up “Medical School” online, all you see is a jumble of letters: MD, DO, MBBS, MBCHB, Licenciatura- what do they mean? Which one is the best of the medical degrees? Does it even matter? Read more to find out!

(If you’re not yet convinced that medicine is for you, click here.)

What’s a medical degree?

A medical degree is the legal and academic certification of studies given to someone who has successfully completed the years of study and qualifying examinations at an accredited medical school. That being the case, there are thousands of options to choose from in terms of medical schools. The World Health Organization recognizes so many medical schools in countries around the world who graduate doctors ready to serve- but not all their diplomas look alike.

What are the 5 most common medical degrees?

Worldwide, the most common types of medical degrees are the:

  1. MD
  2. DO
  3. MBBS
  4. MbChB
  5. Licenciatura de Medico Cirujano

This table sorts the main differences between the 5 degrees, but I will definitely be going more in depth.

Medical degreeLocationDuration of studyPrerequisites
MDUnited States or American offshore schools and Canada4 yearsUndergraduate degree, MCAT*
DOUnited States4 yearsUndergraduate degree, MCAT*
MBBSUnited Kingdom, Commonwealth countries, former British Colonies5 yearsHigh School Diploma
MBCHBUnited Kindom, Eastern Europe5-6 yearsHigh School Diploma
Lic de Medico CirujanoMexico, other Latin American countries6-7 yearsHigh School Diploma
Table describing the differences between the 5 most common medical degrees *Depending on the school, the MCAT may not be necessary

1. MD

So you’re from North America (the US or Canada) and you’d like to study medicine in a curriculum tailored for where you live and want to practice. Maybe you’re a non-US citizen, but an American medical degree gives you the freedom to work in and migrate to a greater number of countries. If any of the two descriptions sound like you, maybe the MD dgree is for you. The MD or Doctor of Medicine degree is a 4 year programme that can be embarked on after completing an undergraduate degree with the requisite science credits in Biology, Physics and Chemistry. Most medical schools offering the MD degree require specific MCAT results before offering acceptance, however.

(Want to study medicine the American way but on the beach? Click here.)

2. DO

This is yet another North American oprtion available. Unlike the MD, the DO degree has a “younger” history, with the first school granting the Doctor of Osteopathy degree in 1892. Based on the philosophy that health is based on and focuses on the unity of all body parts, those that graduate from DO- granting institutions are staunch proponents of holistic medicine and contribute largely to the US primary care system. Like the MD degree, in order to be eligible for acceptance, you have to have completed an undergraduate degree with the requisite science credits, as well as an MCAT score suited to the institution’s standards. In terms of finances, because many DO schools are private institutions, the tuitions in these institutions are usually more expensive than MD schools.

(MD or DO? Click here for an in-depth comparison.)

Doctors all over the world can identify with one of these 5 degrees

3. MBBS

This one is for my British and Commonwealth medicos! In these territories, medical school may be started right after high school and has a duration of 5-6 years of study. MBBS stands for Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery, because unlike the MD and DO degrees, the MBBS is an undergraduate degree. Despite this fact, all three degrees are of the same standard and calibre, and graduates from the MBBS degree are also referred to as “Doctors”. This degree is better suited to aspiring docs who would like to practice in Britain or former British colonies, such as the Caribbean, Africa or India.

4. MBCHB

The MBCHB is another one of the most common medical degrees meaning Medicinae Baccalaureus, Baccalaureus Chirurgiae which is the same as the MBBS’ Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery . It is also an undergraduate degree, meaning that there are students who enter the medical programme straight after leaving high school. This degree is awarded in Britain, South Africa, New Zealand, as well as some other Eastern European countries.

5. Licenciatura en Medicina

This one is for the adventurous medicos that want to study medicine in a completely different language- SPANISH! At the end of my medical journey, this is the degree that I will obtain, being that I study in Mexico. Because its is a “Licenciatura” or undergraduate degree, like the MBBS and MBCHB, this programme accepts students who have a high school diploma. However, at the end of the course of study, which may vary between 6-7 years, the graduate is at the same standard as the other 4 degrees. The main difference between this medical degree and the others (outside of spanish, of course) is that the doctor has to complete their medical internship BEFORE graduation, and depending on the Latin American country, may even have to render a year of service back to the awarding country.

No matter what degree you choose, at the end you’ll be a doctor!

This list isn’t to overwhelm you- instead, it’s to show you that YOU HAVE OPTIONS! Whichever medical degree you choose, at the end, you WILL be a doctor. What medical degree is awarded in your country? Which degree are youu looking forward to studying? Let us know in the comments!

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