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Some professional fields of study require the student to first complete a undergraduate degree program before he or she can be admitted. These fields include Chiropractic, Dentistry, Law, Medicine (including surgery), Optometry, Osteopathy, Pharmacy, Podiatry, and Veterinary Medicine. There are many more professional fields of study in the United States, but those listed here are unique in that they are not offered at the undergraduate degree level.

It is also important to recognize that first-professional degrees in these fields are first degrees, not graduate research degrees. Several of the degree titles in this group of subjects incorporate the term "Doctor," but they are not research doctorates and not equivalent to the Ph.D. Master's degrees and research doctorates in these fields of study are awarded, but they have different names and students enroll in those programs after having earned a first-professional degree.

As with many other education systems, student competition to enter many first-professional programs is fierce and admissions are frequently restricted to only the most qualified candidates. While the United States does not operate a numerus clausus system, the relevant professional associations, and state authorities are actively concerned to maintain the quality of professional studies and balance the number of students admitted and graduated, and the number of accredited programs, with the economic and social need for professional services.

Content of Studies
First-professional degree programs generally involve lecture and (in health fields) laboratory courses, exercises in applied research, and supervised clinical practica or fieldwork. Most programs include an initial classroom and/or laboratory instruction period last one or two years followed by a intensive period mixing advanced coursework and seminars with supervised clinical experience and projects. The clinical experiences are intended to be educational in content and academic credit is earned for them. Clinical work is directly related to the profession for which the student is preparing, and thus may take place in a teaching hospital or legal services clinic.

Student Evaluations
Student progress in first-professional programs is graded on examinations and other academic assignments, but it is also based on continuous evaluation of the individual as a developing professional and includes attention to such factors as attitude, interpersonal behavior, professional ethics, and clinical skills. The goal of a first-professional program is primarily to prepare a competent practicing member of a profession, and only secondarily to produce an academic researcher or theoretician (and then only if a particular program is designed to produce research specialists).

Specialization
U.S. first-professional programs either do not permit specialization at all or do so only in the advanced or clinical phase of study. Programs in law provide only limited opportunity for specialization at the first-professional level because the professional licensing of attorneys. Health-related programs allow more specialization, but most of that is accomplished during the clinical phases of the programs and during the supervised residencies that follow graduation. First-professional programs may offer broad options for students, such as preparation for research or practice careers, but rarely actual major concentrations.

Degrees Awarded
Recognized first-professional degrees are listed below together with the relevant field of study and the usual duration of accredited programs.

Chiropractic
Doctor of Chiropractic (D.C. or D.C.M.), a curriculum divided into "straight" or "progressive" chiropractic depending upon the philosophy of the institution, generally requiring 3 academic years of full-time study after 2 years or more of study at the associate or bachelor's degree level.

Dentistry
Doctor of Dental Science (D.D.S.) or Doctor of Medical Dentistry (D.M.D.), in either case a standard curriculum that generally requires 4 academic years of full-time study following either a bachelor's degree or early admission after 3 years of undergraduate study. It may be followed by an optional clinical specialization during an ensuing residency year or advanced research studies.  Find out more...

Law
Juris Doctor (J.D.), a standard curriculum that generally requires 3 academic years of full-time study following a bachelor's degree. The curriculum is unspecialized; all students follow a similar program regardless of their career intentions. Specialization occurs later, either through apprenticeship and job-related training or advanced study.

Medicine - Allopathic
Doctor of Medicine (M.D.), a standard allopathic medical curriculum generally requiring 4 academic years of full-time study following either a bachelor's degree or early admission after 3 years of undergraduate study. While the M.D. degree is awarded at the end of 4 years, virtually all students take a subsequent year of clinical internship followed by a supervised residency lasting 1-8 years (depending on the specialty) which is required for medical board certification. Of course this additional internship and residency work is beyond the "First Professional" degree. Find out more...

Optometry
Doctor of Optometry (O.D.), a standard curriculum generally requiring 4 academic years of full-time study following 2 or more years of undergraduate study. Find out more...

Medicine - Osteopathyic
Doctor of Ostepathy or Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.), a standard curriculum generally requiring 4 academic years of full-time study following either a bachelor's degree or early admission after 3 years of undergraduate study. Holders of the D.O. degree generally take a year of clinical internship and are eligible for some medical residencies.

Pharmacy
Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.), a standard curriculum generally requiring either 2 academic years of full-time study following a bachelor's degree or 4 years of study following transfer to a pharmacy program after 2 years of undergraduate study. Find out more...

Podiatry
Doctor of Podiatry (D.P., Pod.D.) or Podiatric Medicine (D.P.M.), in either case a standard curriculum generally requiring 4 academic years of full-time study following 2 or more years of undergraduate study.

Veterinary Medicine
Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M.), a standard curriculum generally requiring 4 academic years of full-time study following either a bachelor's degree or early admission after 3 years of undergraduate study. It may be followed by an optional year or more of clinical specialization. Find out more...

Program Length
The program lengths indicated may vary due to the practice of permitting well-prepared undergraduate students who meet all admissions requirements except that of holding an undergraduate degree to begin their professional studies while still undergraduates or without actually completing the bachelor's degree. Many professional programs have admissions agreements with undergraduate institutions that permit such options in exceptional cases. Often the bachelor's degree and the professional degree are both awarded at the completion of such dual programs.

In other cases, the professional school itself offers a complete program of study that encompasses both the preliminary undergraduate work and the advanced professional study, or admits students into the professional program after a prescribed number of credits have been earned, and awards one degree (the first-professional degree) at the end of the entire program.

Note: Some resources in this section are provided by the U.S. Department of Education.

 


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