MD vs MBBS, it’s a feud as old as time. Well, at least as old as 2011. The MBBS and MD degrees are the two major medical degrees offered by universities in Australia. All doctors in Australia must have either a Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree or a Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) degree to qualify with AHPRA and practice legally as a medical practitioner.
There is often a lot of confusion around the differences between the two, and whether the letters after your name should influence which university you go to. We’ll break it all down in this article but, in short, the degree type you have has no impact on your ability to practice as a doctor and does not impact career outcomes in any meaningful way.
What’s A Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS)?
The Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) degree was, until recently, the only medical degree offered in Australia. In the past, doctors could easily get into a single medical degree straight from high school and study to become a doctor without an undergraduate degree or any further requirements. They were even largely accepted solely on the basis of their academic results, without the need for clinical aptitude tests (like the UCAT) or interviews.
The MBBS degree is a professional degree that is recognised by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) and fully and completely qualifies those who hold it to practice as doctors. Doctors who have MBBS degrees are fully qualified and may practice in any specialty.
Although “surgery” appears in the title of the degree, this has no impact on the specialty of a doctor who holds an MBBS – they could just as easily be a cardiologist, neurologist, or GP.
More recently, universities have made the decision to switch their medical degrees from the MBBS into the newer Doctor of Medicine (MD). As a result, most doctors who graduate from Australian medical schools today will do so with an MD degree, and not an MBBS. The majority of doctors who hold MBBS degrees will be older and would have obtained their degrees earlier before the MD degrees were offered.
Despite this, there are still a small number of universities that offer the MBBS in Australia, including James Cook University and Curtin University. Students gain entry into these programs straight from high school. As above, doctors who graduate from these universities are just as qualified as everyone else.
What’s A Doctor of Medicine (MD)?
Starting with the University of Melbourne in 2011, universities across Australia have recently made the decision to switch their medical degrees from the MBBS to the newer Doctor of Medicine (MD). The major difference between the two is that the Doctor of Medicine is only offered as a postgraduate degree in Australia. The Doctor of Medicine (MD) is a masters level degree (AQF level 9). Like the MBBS, those holding the MD are completely and totally qualified to practice as doctors in any specialty.
The postgraduate element means students have to complete an undergraduate degree before they can be accepted into the Doctor of Medicine (MD). Some universities have restrictions on the type of undergraduate degree students have to complete, though the vast majority accept undergraduate students from any discipline. Some universities, such as the University of Melbourne have no prerequisites for entry into postgraduate medicine.
As an AQF level 9 masters degree, the Doctor of Medicine (MD) has a slightly more intensive focus on research. Most medical schools require students to complete an extended research project as part of the Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree. This is typically a period of around 14 weeks in which students engage in intensive research and present their findings via papers and presentations. Find more about the University of Sydney’s research element.
In other countries, the MD can have a slightly different meaning. For example, in Malaysia, the MD is largely considered to be an additional degree offered to students who are already doctors and graduates of an MBBS program. In the United States, the two main medical degrees are the Doctor of Medicine (MD) and the Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO). Both the Australian MBBS and MD degrees are recognised in the United States as equivalent to the US MD.
MD vs MBBS: Which is Better?
At the end of the day, neither the MBBS nor the MD is an inherently better degree. Both qualify graduates as doctors fully and completely, and graduates are free to pursue any and all specialties regardless of the letters after their name. In short, MBBS vs MD is a complete and utter tie. Both are equally as good at qualifying students as doctors.
MD vs MBBS: Which is More Common?
It may be worth noting that the majority of doctors who are graduating today from medical schools in Australia are doing so with Doctor of Medicine (MD) degrees, and some doctors have expressed some minor concerns with their MBBS. These are largely unfounded though and completely psychological as there is no material benefit to holding one degree over the other.
Remember also that while most new graduates hold an MD degree, the vast majority of older doctors hold an MBBS so it’s difficult to say how many practicing doctors are in each category. As the years go on though, we expect to see fewer and fewer MBBS doctors, and more MD doctors in Australia.
MD vs MBBS: Which is Longer?
If you decide to pursue an MBBS, you may graduate as a doctor sooner than if you took an MD pathway. This is because many universities such as UQ, the University of Sydney, Griffith University, and the University of Melbourne require the completion of a 3-year undergraduate degree before their 4-year MD degree for a total of 7 years. On the other hand, Curtin’s MBBS degree is just 5 years in total and James Cook University’s MBBS is 6 years in total.
There are some exceptions though, as Bond University’s combined undergraduate and MD pathway is just 4 years and 8 months in duration. Similarly, Griffith University offers a combined Medical Science and Doctor of Medicine (MD) program that qualifies students as doctors in just 6 years.
MD vs MBBS: Research Considerations
The MD degree is arguably slightly more focussed on research elements which may play a role in your decision. This should not be a significant factor though, as both degrees contain at least some elements of research and both qualify highly competent and accredited doctors.
There are also countless opportunities for research after medical school when you are a qualified doctor, and several additional degree programs are available such as masters degrees in surgery and other specialised fields.
MD vs MBBS: Conclusion
We hope this helped shine a light on the differences between the MBBS and MD degrees given to graduating doctors in Australia. At the end of the day, neither the MBBS nor the MD is an inherently better degree. Both qualify graduates as doctors fully and completely, and graduates are free to pursue any and all specialties regardless of the letters after their name. In short, MD vs MBBS is a complete and utter tie. Both are equally as good at qualifying students as doctors.