Doctorates by thesis and publication in clinical medicine: an analysis of examiners' reports
National and institutional policies to escalate the production of doctorates have raised concerns about the quality of PhDs in South Africa. This study evaluates examiner reports of doctorates by thesis and publication in clinical medicine to ascertain the criteria that examiners used to define a successful doctoral thesis. A qualitative hermeneutic approach through document analysis was taken, involving 54 national and international examiner reports of 18 doctoral theses, half of which were by publication. The examiners rated the majority (81%) of these theses to be of a high quality. Our results show a scatter of positive and negative aspects distributed across all 18 theses, with corresponding commendations and criticisms. Notably, almost equal emphasis was placed on conceptual and communication issues. Ratings per thesis were not always concordant, with five theses each given widely divergent ratings by three respective examiners. The study also found differences in ratings between examiners, based on whether they were medical or non- medical, international or national, and with or without PhDs themselves. While no single criterion was identifiable as being diagnostic of doctoral quality, the identified strengths and shortcomings of these theses serve as a useful platform for supervisors and students aspiring to cross the doctoral threshold.