I really don’t like it when people call me “doctor.”
The only time that I ever refer to myself as “Dr. WhiteCoat” is when I first enter a room and introduce myself to a patient. That way they know that I’m not some schmuck off of the street who wandered into the wrong room. Patients came to the emergency department to be evaluated by a doctor and, like it or not, I’m that guy.
However, almost all of the staff that I work with call me “Whitey” and many patients call me by that nickname. The rest call me “Dr. Whitey” apparently because they feel uncomfortable addressing me without the “Doctor” moniker.
Personally, it annoys me to no end when people correct others and demand to be called “Doctor”.
I met a child’s parent at a football game and introduced myself.
“Hi, Mr. Smith, I’m Thaddeus WhiteCoat. Nice to meet you.”
“It’s Doctor Smith. Dr. Mark Smith.”
“Oh. My apologies. What’s you’re specialty?”
“I have a PhD in psychology.”
In the back of my mind I was thinking about saying something like “Unfortunately, we’re in football stands so I can’t genuflect in front of you. Please forgive me.”
In the NY Times a couple of weeks ago, there was an article about nurses who want to be called “doctor.” Actually, the nurses in the article earned the title. They have doctorates in nursing or other PhD degrees.
Is it good public policy to allow a non-physician to use the title “doctor” in a medical setting without having a medical degree?
Personally, I don’t care what people want to call themselves. If your ego is that fragile, call yourself Grand Exalted Supreme Poobah Doctor Nightingale for all I care. Introduce yourself that way at dinner parties. Command people to address you that way. Knock yourself out.
When someone introduces themselves as “doctor” in a medical setting, it evokes a specific and consistent response from just about any patient: The person in front of me is a physician.
Whether the patient thinks the “doctor” is intelligent or a quack depends upon multiple other issues, but the presumption is that “doctors” have gone through a lot of medical training and are capable of independently evaluating, diagnosing, and treating the medical condition for which the patient is seeking care.
In my view, calling oneself “doctor” when one is not a physician is misleading. Think about it. What if you bought a “hybrid” car, then opened up the hood to find a regular engine with a “hybrid” soybean growing in a crevice. Hey, it is a hybrid, isn’t it ? Or what if you bought a “Big Mac” and unwrapped a sandwich with two buns and a piece of cheese that was made by some guy named “Big Mac”?
States tend to frown upon nurses and physicians assistants referring to themselves as “doctor” as well. Many state Medical Practice Acts, Nursing Practice Acts, and Physician Assistant Practice Acts prohibit non-physicians from leading a patient to believe that they are capable of independently providing medical care. There have also been lawsuits against physician assistants who have not disclosed their credentials.
Maybe the increasing number of non-physicians who refer to themselves as “doctor” will create a “caveat emptor” environment where consumers will inquire about the credentials of a health care provider before seeking care. I see that as a good thing.
Maybe hospitals will use the idea to enhance their advertising: “This hospital emergency department is staffed exclusively by board certified emergency department physicians.”
We haven’t reached that tipping point, yet, though.
Given the current medical practice environment where providers are attempting to cut costs by employing non-physicians, I don’t think it is appropriate for non-physicians to refer to themselves in a medical setting as “doctor,” even if they have earned some other doctorate degree.
If non-physicians want to demand that others call them “Doctor” at dinner parties, go through the explanation about how they are not a physician but have completed a doctorate in some other course of study, garner the eye rolls that go along with the explanation, and then deal with the whispers about how he or she is not a “real” doctor, hey … be my guest.
What do you think?