Share this article on:

What Is a 21st-Century Doctor? Rethinking the Significance of the Medical Degree

ten Cate, Olle PhD

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000000280

The undergraduate medical degree, leading to a license to practice, has traditionally been the defining professional milestone of the physician. Developments in health care and medical education and training, however, have changed the significance of the medical degree in the continuum of education toward clinical practice. The author discusses six questions that should lead us to rethink the current status and significance of the medical degree and, consequently, that of the physician. These questions include the quest for core knowledge and competence of the doctor, the place of the degree in the education continuum, the increasing length of training, the sharing of health care tasks with other professionals, and the nature of professional identity in a multitasking world. The author concludes by examining ways to redefine what it means to be a “medical doctor.”

Dr. ten Cate is professor of medical education and director, Center for Research and Development of Education, University Medical Center Utrecht, Utrecht, The Netherlands.

Funding/Support: None reported.

Other disclosures: None reported.

Ethical approval: Reported as not applicable.

Previous presentations: International Network of Clinician Educators meeting, August 29, 2013, Prague, Czech Republic, and South East Faculty of Clinical Educators Symposium, November 20, 2013, Edinburgh, Scotland.

Correspondence should be addressed to Dr. ten Cate, Center for Research and Development of Education, University Medical Center Utrecht, PO Box 85500, 3508 GA Utrecht, The Netherlands; e-mail:

© 2014 by the Association of American Medical Colleges