”So you’re an MD?”

That’s a question I tend to get a lot. People always like to know if I have an MD whenever I mention that I went to medical school or that I’m a ‘doctor’. I used to reply, ”Not exactly, I’m an MBBS.” and then proceed to explain what that means (Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery). Recently, however I’ve given up and answered with a plain and simple ”Yep.”

So I decided to delve a bit deeper into why differences exist between the nomenclature of primary medical degrees. Worldwide, I was surprised to find out that most countries in fact use MBBS or a similar post-nominal letters such as MBBCh.It’s mainly just the US and Canada that use MD to refer to the primary medical degree. And yet, even here in Europe, I get a confused response when I try to explain the difference (thanks to the likes of ER, Grey’s Anatomy, House, I suppose). What was even more surprising, however, was that the US actually took the idea of the letters MD from the UK, Scotland to be specific. Until the 19th century, Scotland actually awarded medical graduates with MDs while the rest of the UK awarded MBBS, MB BCh, etc. Medical schools in Scotland, including the University of Edinburgh, award MBChB.

In the UK, Commonwealth nations, as well as in Sudan (where I earned my primary medical degree), MD is a postgraduate qualification usually awarded after a doctor is specialized and after he/she has done significant research – so it’s almost like a PhD in a sense.

In Germany, medical graduates don’t receive a post-nominal title. Instead, they are awarded the pre-nominal ‘Dr.med’.

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