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I originally got an MD from an EU country, and I'm currently working in the US as a postdoc (doing research only, not clinical work). I was lucky to get this postdoc position without the need for a PhD, as in the US an MD and a PhD are both considered terminal degrees. Further, I seem to be on my way to get a US tenure track job in the next couple of years.

My question is: if I ever decide to move back to the EU, can I get a faculty job without a PhD? I know most EU countries have stricter requirements (i.e., absolutely need PhD) than the US for faculty positions. Can the US postdoc + hopefully tenure-track job bypass the bureaucratic requirements and be recognized as equivalent to a PhD?

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  • Interesting in so far as a combined MD-PhD is a normal thing in the US - I would say that many might not agree that an MD is the equivalent of a PhD, given the differences in the focus of the two.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Oct 19, 2023 at 18:16
  • Further, from what I know from friends on either side of the Atlantic, the MD is a bit different between them anyway. The answer to your question may be very dependent on the institution (and whether you are already a professor).
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Oct 19, 2023 at 18:24
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    Sorry, I meant to say that they are equivalent in the sense that they are terminal degrees, and enough to continue as a postdoc.
    – user178392
    Commented Oct 19, 2023 at 18:25
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    I also think I'd characterize things about the US situation a bit differently; it's not so much important that MDs and PhDs are both terminal degrees, but rather that the US has no strict requirements for degrees for jobs outside of some special cases (like needing a medical degree to practice medicine). That means whoever is doing the hiring for a job called a "post doc"/research associate has some level of freedom in who to hire and can even appeal restrictions imposed at a department or institution level in special cases.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Oct 19, 2023 at 19:39
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    Have you looked into a "PhD by prior published work" or "PhD by prior publication"? Your US university probably doesn't offer this, but many UK universities do. Essentially you submit a previously published body of work which you say is equivalent to a PhD, defend it, and are awarded a regular PhD. This can be your postdoctoral work. Commented Oct 21, 2023 at 10:23

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A postdoc is not a degree. It is a job. You cannot use it to substitute for a degree.

If an exception were made to hiring requirements, it would be based on the applicant's publication record. A university might overlook a missing PhD to hire someone with an excellent publication record. Many decades ago, when PhDs were less common, such exceptions were made. A postdoc job alone will not stand out in hiring.

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    Yes, I know this is possible in the US. I am asking if the same would be possible in the EU, where they're much stricter with degree requirements from a bureaucratic/administrative point of view.
    – user178392
    Commented Oct 20, 2023 at 2:00
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I suspect that the details will depend highly on which EU country we are talking about. For Germany, the situation is as follows:

The relevant doctorates are the Dr rer nat and the Dr med. Both are doctorates, and having either means you meet the formal criterion of having a doctorate. In practise, getting a Dr med usually involves only a very small research project, more comperable with a typical MSc project.

For getting a faculty position the primary qualification however is a habilitation anyway. If you are spending your postdoc phase in the US, you obviously won't earn a Dr habil. Thus, part of the process of getting a German faculty position would be to successfully argue that your research qualifications meet the standard of a habilitation. Thus, the type of your first doctorate doesn't really matter anyway.

The one situation where I have seen a formal difference between Dr rer nat and Dr med is in the qualifications for Marie Curie Fellowships. In general having a doctorate is a sufficient baseline qualification to count as a researcher there, however, the Dr med is an exception. This doesn't mean that you're out if you have a Dr med, but rather that you need to argue based on your publication record that you are a real researcher after all.

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I have spent some time looking at job ads for academic jobs, mostly in Sweden and Germany. Most of the post-PhD ones explicitly state that only those who have completed a PhD are qualified to apply.

This means you have to convince the hiring committee that you are more qualified than anyone with the right credentials, before they realise that you don't have the right credentials, to even have a chance to be on the short list. There are laws saying they have to hire the most qualified person for the job, so if you are not technically qualified, it is a huge administrative effort to hire you.

So my answer is basically; it is possible, but it will take significant amount of convincing and luck.

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I've never seen it and sure you will have a non conventional CV - so you will be up against people who went the more classical route. In my European country people would definitely not equate an MD to a PhD (more to an MSc).

Since this is a hypothetical future scenario, you will need to have your research output and funding record show that you are performing similar to (or better than) someone who went the classical route. The postdoc alone would be a bit iffy, but let's say you do get the TT job and then perform well there, then your track record might make up for the missed PhD. You will have some explaining to do though, so be prepared for that.

It will also depend on your field of research, by the way.

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The EU includes many different countries. You can't expect a simple answer that is valid everywhere. That said, I doubt any country will count a postdoc as a PhD. The right question is whether you need a PhD in order to get a faculty position, and that will vary between countries. If your publications are outstanding, it's not unlikely that you'll be hired, but if you're at a similar level as other applicants, you'll probably be at a disadvantage.

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Unless it's typical to MDs, post-doc by definition requires PhD and postdoc is like faulty job with less responsibilities and independence but not a degree. Non-PhDs can do research and can be called by different names and titles.

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I would recommend looking for a clinical research fellow position. These are open to applicants with a medical license (so registration with the country's medical council is required, including license to practice). PhD is not typically required, but research experience is desirable. As an additional benefit, these positions are usually in place to support clinicians to attain a PhD, so they may fund you to pursue a PhD with the local university as part of your work. In the UK, pay is scaled according to your clinical grade (NHS Band), so pay is similar to that of most postdoctoral positions. While these posts are competitive, having some research and/or biostatistics experience will be an advantage with respect to applicants with solely clinical experience. Some posts are mixed clinical work and research, some posts are pure research. It sounds like you are looking for the latter. If you are considering UK positions, I would suggest to look on NHS jobs (https://www.jobs.nhs.uk).

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