You can become a doctor without science

When elderly patients talk to their doctor, the doctor's name is usually a minor matter. The salutation is "Herr Doktor" anyway - that always fits. The doctorate is not a job title, but an academic degree that students can acquire in countless subjects. But in everyday language the closeness to medicine is so great that even the dictionary recognizes the doctor as a synonym for doctor. It is all the more difficult that the "Dr. med." is currently again heavily criticized.

The doctorate to become a doctor of medicine has been the subject of controversy for years - because a lot of the work is not well done and science is hardly advanced. Even the Science Council, the highest advisory body of the federal government on questions of science policy, established in 2004 that the work in medicine in the "vast majority of cases" does not meet the standards of other natural science subjects.

Now a plagiarism affair at the Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster is fueling new doubts: After a long examination, eight physicians were withdrawn from their doctorate at the end of February because they had written off. More than a dozen other graduates received a reprimand, but were allowed to keep their doctorate. And a professor who had supervised at least two affected physicians during their doctorate was banned - he is no longer allowed to supervise other doctoral students.

Doctoral theses are written after work

"Getting into a managerial position without a doctorate is a rarity. This is especially true for universities and hospitals," says Rudolf Henke, chairman of the Marburger Bund doctors' union. A doctorate in medicine is still widely expected in this country - by patients and colleagues alike. At present, 60 percent of medical professionals finish their studies with a doctorate. But in contrast to all other natural science subjects, they almost always write these on the side, either during their studies or parallel to specialist training in the hospital - this is often at the expense of quality.

In addition, medical professionals hardly learn how to work scientifically at university - for example, narrow down the research goal, record the state of research and cite it correctly in the text. A doctoral thesis demands all this from the candidate. But unlike in other subjects, medical students do not write homework in which they practice this on a small scale. The doctoral thesis is often the first (and only) scientific paper a doctor ever writes. "At many universities in Germany there is little preparation for scientific work in medicine," says Beatrix Schwörer, head of the medicine department in the Science Council.

It is true that there are also students in medicine who spend years in the laboratory for their dissertation and who later deliver work at the highest level. But that remains the exception. Much of the work is purely statistical analysis, which connoisseurs quickly notice that they were created without spending a lot of time.

It is therefore not surprising that the German "Dr. med." Fares rather poorly in an international comparison. In Europe, the average medical doctorate from Germany is seen as a kind of diploma thesis, the local "Doctor of Medicine" is therefore not on the same level as the internationally recognized "Philosophiae Doctor", or Ph. D. The lack of international recognition makes it more difficult German doctors with a scientific claim to be internationally recognized.

Bertram Otto from the Federal Representation of Medical Students in Germany (BVMD) thinks this is a big problem. "This situation closes many doors for us students, for example it prevents us from applying for funding programs," he says. That is why the association is calling for the so-called professional doctorate to be introduced in Germany: every student who completes his medical degree would automatically receive a doctorate.