The Professional Doctorate
A professional doctorate is an advanced degree that qualifies recipients to work in a specific profession. The term professional doctorate usually refers to a terminal degree that is not a PhD degree. A PhD degree is usually required to teach at the university level.
How Does a Professional Doctorate Differ From a PhD?
All doctoral degree recipients may use the title of Doctor before their name when they start practicing in their chosen profession. Though all PhDs are doctorates, not all doctorates are PhDs. The primary difference is the type of research conducted in the independent research phase.
PhD learners are expected to extend the body of knowledge in their field and to apply that knowledge to solve a real-world problem in their workplace or community. PhD learners demonstrate this through a dissertation, which they must successfully defend to get their PhD degree.
Professional doctorate learners, on the other hand, are expected to apply existing knowledge in their field to a real-world problem in their workplace or community. They demonstrate this through a doctoral capstone project, a final deliverable for the organization, and an academic, five-chapter manuscript. Because these degrees are more career-focused, they may also be referred to as applied or practitioner degrees.
Following is an example that highlights the differences: Although a doctor of philosophy in education (PhD) and a doctor of education (EdD) are both doctoral degrees, PhD learners will focus on conducting research and extending knowledge in their field. In contrast, EdD students will apply existing knowledge to improving education systems. Read the following article to acquire further insight on the differences:
Jones, M. (2018). Contemporary trends in professional doctorates. Studies in Higher Education, 43(5), 814–825.
Dissertation and Doctoral Capstone: Commonalities and Differences
All doctoral programs prepare learners to apply research skills in the workplace and community. Completing either a dissertation or a doctoral capstone requires intense preparation and a strong foundation in research, writing, and critical thinking. Both culminate in a final document or project that demonstrates academic rigor and readiness to lead in a chosen profession.
A PhD dissertation is the traditional five-chapter written document. It’s an original contribution to the body of academic literature and theory in the field. It addresses a research problem or a gap in existing research that will contribute to the knowledge base of the discipline. A PhD dissertation involves a quest for new knowledge that is intended to solve a real-world problem and be relevant to the field.
A doctoral capstone, on the other hand, is intended to extend or apply research to deliver a solution to a problem immediately, within a real-world setting. It’s presented in two parts: (a) a final deliverable, which could be a strategic plan or a product, such as a change management plan, policy manual, application, or curriculum, and (b) a final manuscript, which describes the creation of the deliverable and the learning that supports it.
Doctoral Capstone Projects
A doctoral capstone is an evidence-based improvement intervention project intended to extend or apply research to deliver a solution to a problem immediately, within a real-world setting. Its purpose is to mitigate the negative effects of an identified health care or public health challenge at the practicum site in a short period of time (12 weeks). Its primary goal is to provide benefits and value to the organization and the populations it serves. You’ll use the EBP process for your capstone project, which you’ve learned about through your didactic courses.
The practicum part of a doctoral capstone project is a 12-week, 100-hour, on-site doctoral project or work activity. In addition to providing benefits and value to the organization and the populations it serves, a practicum is also intended to provide you with an opportunity to apply the skills of an independent, evidence-based practice researcher and further your development as a scholar-practitioner.
Important: In your keystone course, NHS8701 Keystone: Defining the Doctoral Project, coming up next, you, your preceptor, and practicum site leaders will identify or confirm a health care or public health challenge and organizational evidence to substantiate it, using already-tracked organization-specific data; publicly reported performance indicators; process metrics, structure metrics, or outcomes metrics; or aggregate data found in reports used by organizational leaders. Without IRB approval, you cannot legally or ethically conduct data analysis at the site, so you’ll need to discuss and identify a baseline metric, benchmark, and other information with your site leaders.
What a Doctoral Capstone Project Is and Is Not
A doctoral capstone project is:
An evidence-based change and improvement project.
A collaborative doctoral degree project requiring leadership, scholarship, and practice.
A project focused on an identified, organizational challenge.
A project substantiated with organizational and research evidence.
A project based on a substantiated need to mitigate the negative effect of the challenge.
A project for which the practicum site implements one best, agreed-upon, feasible, evidence-based intervention during your 12-week practicum.
A doctoral project that requires site, mentor, preceptor, university, and IRB approval before any actions are taken.
A project that provides value and benefit to the organization and the populations it serves.
A doctoral capstone project is not:
A research study.
A project based on hearsay, opinions, experience, or observations.
A project focused on something that an organization is not aware of.
A project for which you implement an intervention.
A project done in isolation, by yourself.
A project in which you don’t communicate with leaders at the site.
Something like your didactic courses.
Something that is done quickly and easily.
University Criteria for Doctoral Capstone Projects
To ensure that your proposed project has academic rigor and allows for review and approval, the following criteria are used to determine whether your project meets expectations for the professional doctorate degree:
A successful and approvable doctor of health administration (DHA) or doctor of public health (DrPH) capstone project will do the following:
Focus on change that positively affects health care or public health outcomes.
Be original, unique, and not a repeat of a study or project that has been conducted previously.
Be amenable to evidence-based change and improvement.
Transform a macro- or microsystem to improve health care or public health outcomes.
Demonstrate evidence-based implementation in the appropriate arena or area of practice.
Focus on six quality-improvement areas so that anticipated project outcomes are safe, effective, patient-, client-, or community-centered, timely, efficient, and equitable.
Incorporate evidence-based interventions, innovation, or technology, as appropriate.
Include a plan for sustainability or a strategic plan or recommendation for future action by the site.
Include an evaluation of processes and an analysis of outcomes.
Provide a foundation for future practice scholarship through the development of a manuscript suitable for (but not dependent on) journal submission.
Refer to the NHS Doctoral Capstone Project Handbook [PDF] for more information on capstone project focus areas and requirements.
When considering organizational challenges on which to focus a doctoral project, you’ll need to evaluate the general topic to determine if it meets Capella University requirements. An acceptable doctoral capstone topic is aligned with your program and specialization, avoids significant participant risks, and is feasible. You must also ensure that you have the appropriate expertise and avoid topics about which you have unmanageable bias.
Program and Specialization Alignment
One of the most important aspects of your doctoral program is selecting a topic for your doctoral capstone and obtaining approval. In selecting your topic, first consider whether your proposed topic aligns with your program and specialization and is grounded in the peer-reviewed literature of your discipline. Your school has developed a number of resources to help you select a topic aligned with your program and specialization.
Significant Participant Risks
All projects that have research involving human subjects involves some degree of participant risk. Even doctoral capstone projects that do not involve human subjects research, as defined by federal regulations, may present risks to the individuals involved. Because doctoral learners have minimal research experience, in most cases, research undertaken toward completion of a doctoral capstone should be appropriate for a novice researcher and present minimal risks to participants. Research involving significant participant risks will typically not be approved.
Carefully review Assessing Risk in Research [PDF] for an understanding of how to assess potential topics for risk and how to mitigate risk.
When selecting a doctoral capstone topic, avoid topics involving significant participant risk, including those that might be considered highly sensitive or involve highly vulnerable populations. Certain topics are also prohibited at Capella.
Sensitive Doctoral Capstone Topics to Avoid
Sensitive topics include those that are more likely to lead to participant distress or result in participant risks, such as social stigma, risk to employability, or legal consequences. The following research topics may be considered sensitive:
Sexual behavior or practices.
Illegal activities or ethically questionable behaviors.
Racism, ageism, classism, discrimination, or sexism.
Experiences of grief and loss, trauma, or violence.
Experiences of being part of any potentially vulnerable population.
Job performance or competency.
Research conducted in international settings; such studies may be subject to international regulations.
Capella prohibits several of the following kinds of research:
Research that requires U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversight and approval. Such research typically involves drugs and devices and is generally clinical in nature. Research testing the efficacy of treatment strategies may involve FDA oversight.
Research on fetuses or neonates or medical research involving pregnant women. Social and behavioral research targeting pregnant women may be permitted.
Greater than minimal risk involving children or minors, except when such research presents a significant likelihood of direct benefit to the children involved. Such research must not only contribute meaningfully to the literature in the field but also be of benefit to the participants immediately involved.
Research on animals because such research requires review and oversight by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee rather than an IRB.
To learn more about topic selection, visit the campus resources here: Topic Selection.
Scholarly and Scientific Merit in a Doctoral Capstone
Your doctoral capstone is a culmination of your ability to apply the skills of an independent researcher and demonstrate your development as a scholar-practitioner. Completion of your doctoral capstone is also a demonstration of subject and methodological expertise and serves as public confirmation that you possess the ability to understand the literature in your field, engage in critical analysis, communicate effectively, and complete a scholarly project by following through on tasks and meeting deadlines. Therefore, doctoral learners must undertake doctoral capstones that demonstrate adequate scholarly or scientific rigor. Schools will review your work to ensure scholarly or scientific merit. This commonly involves a highly iterative process in which you’ll work to incorporate feedback, in order to enhance the quality and integrity of your work. This iterative review process enhances the academic integrity of your doctoral capstone and increases the likelihood that you will achieve meaningful results.
Capella’s doctoral learners participate in scholarly or scientific merit review as part of their school approval process.