The emergence of professional doctorate programmes in the UK began in the 1980s and 1990s, mainly in response to the needs of the professions and academically able individuals looking for mid-career professional development that would provide them with a high level academic qualification.
The first examples of professional doctorates were in the social sciences, in particular, education (the EdD), psychology (the DClinPsy and DEdPsy) and business (DBA). Today the professional doctorate is a fast-growing qualification that has been adopted by several professions, and professional doctorates in different subjects are now offered by a significant number of UK universities.
Professional doctorates may be strongly focused in a single discipline, such as engineering, medicine, psychiatry and psychology, or more multidisciplinary, such as those in the field of education. Some, like the professional doctorates in business and management, are strongly subject-orientated but also draw on other disciplines for some elements.
In a few professions, professional or practice-based doctorates have become the qualifications needed for professional individual accreditation. The EngD for instance is a qualification that must be acquired for the individual to be eligible for chartered engineer status in whatever specific field has been studied, e.g. civil engineering. In clinical psychology, the DClinPsy must be acquired before being admitted to professional / clinical practice. In both these examples, doctoral graduates are not, like many other professional or practice-based doctoral graduates, mid-career professionals, but are just embarking on their professional careers after, in some cases, quite a long period of study in preparation. However, the majority of entrants to professional or practice-based doctorate programmes are more mature and increasingly, the professional doctorate is seen as a qualification sought after by mid-career professionals as a degree that will enhance their career progression as well as enabling them to situate their practical knowledge in an academic and theoretical context.