I have come across this term fairly often, where full/associate/assistant professors are referred to by the term ‘clinical’. Given that their departments had nothing to do with medicine, I thought the term referred to the second meaning of clinical:

scientifically detached; strictly objective

Is this interpretation correct? If yes, isn’t such a branding offensive?

  • 1
    Can you please give an example?
    – jakebeal
    Commented Aug 1, 2015 at 18:48
  • If any of the answers refers to locations outside the US, let us know. Otherwise, I assume this usage of "clinical" is found only there.
    – GEdgar
    Commented Aug 1, 2015 at 19:20

3 Answers 3


There can be clinical professors in fields other than medicine, though they may be labeled something else. The definition of a "clinical professor" is not limited to medicine:

"The prefix Clinical identifies appointments that primarily provide practical instruction and application of practical knowledge. On the Medical Campus, the title describes faculty whose primary activity is limited to clinical or public health practice and associated teaching. The duties, terms of appointment, and salaries (if any) of such persons are specified in the letter of appointment. In general, the applicable rank and any subsequent promotions should be determined by the relevant academic achievements, professional accomplishments, and demonstrated effectiveness of the appointee." (Boston University faculty handbook)

So, though I don't know much about engineering, I imagine that a professional from an engineering firm that specializes in a particular process could be hired as a clinical professor. S/he would teach about the particular niche they occupy in the industry.

  • Note that this isn't directly related to the "detached" sense of the word "clinical". It's intended to describe their duties, not their personalities, and certainly isn't meant to be offensive. Commented Aug 1, 2015 at 19:22
  • No, not at all.
    – ewormuth
    Commented Aug 1, 2015 at 20:08
  • Outside medicine, permanent non-research faculty would usually be denoted "Professor of Practice". Lecturers from outside academia such as your final example are "adjunct"
    – Ben Voigt
    Commented Aug 1, 2015 at 21:16
  • 2
    I think it might vary depending on the context.
    – ewormuth
    Commented Aug 1, 2015 at 21:23
  • 1
    @BenVoigt My university has Clinical Professors in medicine (both human and veterinary), law, business, and engineering; we do not use the title "Professor of the Practice". Academic titles for non-tenure-track faculty vary significantly from one university to the next.
    – JeffE
    Commented Aug 2, 2015 at 17:35

Clinical Law Faculty usually supervise one or two law clinics where law students can get practical experience getting indigent or immigrant clients. In this case, "clinical" means that their responsibilities are mainly focused in the teaching and running of said clinics and that they are not full faculty in the law school in terms of voting and tenure rights.

Clinical Writing Faculty is a term I've recently come across for some professional staff (with PhDs) who work in university writing/tutoring clinics. They help students with their essays and may also teach some composition courses. These people are also not full faculty in terms of voting and tenure rights.

Note: "Adjunct" is not appropriate for these faculty as they are often full time with renewing terms. "Visiting" is inappropriate as they are on renewing terms that could span decades of service. "Staff" is inappropriate as they have terminal degrees and are teaching/supervising students. "Professor of Practice" is a mostly equivalent term to "clinical faculty," again with the emphasis on teaching rather than research.


Many universities are now forced by their budgetary situations to hire people at low wages on temporary contracts to teach classes. Then they have the problem of figuring out what title to give these employees. Since medical schools have a longstanding practice of hiring people (though not at low wages) on temporary contracts to teach classes and (accurately in their case) call such people Clinical Professors, some universities have adopted the terminology for all such cases.

  • 2
    This scenario more typically is denoted "adjunct faculty". And compensation under temporary contracts usually is not low even outside medicine. But this is definitely not the case mentioned in the question.
    – Ben Voigt
    Commented Aug 1, 2015 at 21:14

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