Understanding the Definition of a Doctoral Candidate

"All But Dissertation" Before Becoming a Doctor

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Informally known as "All But Dissertation" (or ABD), the doctoral candidate has completed all of the requirements for the doctoral degree with the exception of his or her dissertation. A student usually advances to a doctoral candidate once he or she has completed all coursework required for the degree and has passed the doctoral comprehensive exam. As a doctoral candidate, the student's final task is to complete the dissertation.

The Long Road to Dissertation

Although medical school may have come to an end once the students submit to be doctoral candidates, their journeys to full accreditation as doctors are far from over. Many doctoral candidates remain in the ABD status for several reasons including difficulty conducting research, time management and motivational deficits, interfering employment that distracts from research time and ultimately a loss of interest in the subject matter. 

Throughout their education, the advisor will conduct weekly to bi-weekly meetings with the student, guiding them along the path to a strong dissertation. The earlier you start working on yours during medical school, the better. It's best to keep in mind that the dissertation you develop must contain a specific hypothesis that can be tested and peer reviewed, supported or rejected by new data discovered by the student.  

Ph.D. candidates must work independently, which often leads to lengthy periods at the ABD status. Especially if students made the common medical school mistake of not vetting their dissertation ideas through colleagues and faculty members while enrolled in the doctoral program. Time is a huge factor in the ability of a doctoral candidate to complete his or her dissertation, so waiting until the last minute to begin could result in these candidates remaining such for many years before publishing their work.

Defending the Dissertation

However, once a student does manage to complete his or her dissertation, the Ph.D. candidate then must defend their statement in front of a panel of faculty members. Fortunately, a dissertation advisor and committee are granted to students hoping to complete their doctorate. As a student, you should fully utilize these advisors to the fullest extent to ensure that your dissertation is ready for the public forum in which you must defend it. 

Once the public defense of the candidate's dissertation is completed to a satisfactory level, the committee overseeing the defense will submit a Defense Final Report form to the program and the student will submit the approved dissertation electronically into the school's database, completing the final paperwork for their degree. 

After the Dissertation

From there, the candidate will be awarded their full doctorate degree and will officially become accredited to work as a physician in the United States (providing all other requirements are met). Along with being able to add "M.D." or "Ph.D." to the end of their title, these newly titled doctors can begin shopping out their resume to potential employers and seek the recommendation letters of their advisors, faculty members, and friends in order to better their chances of gainful employment.

Finally, after over eight years of education, the medical student can enter the exciting professional world of medicine, establish their own practice or join up with a respected hospital and start saving lives.