Why Do We Call Them Doctor?

April 15, 2008 by  
Filed under HEALTHCARE

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I have a master’s degree. But no one calls me Master Trisha (nor do they call me mistress!)

I have friends who are lawyers and nobody calls them Esquire Jim or Esquire Jane.

I have a great accountant, but no one calls her Counter Maryann or CPA Maryann.

But every doctor I know is called doctor. And that title is usually accompanied by a last name, not a first. Doctor Smith or Doctor Brown… a sign of respect.

But consider this:

Back in the dark ages (also known as the 1970s) I was a primary school teacher. My students called me “Mrs.” along with my last name (which, no…. wasn’t Torrey then! Torrey is my maiden name.)

Also, some of us women wore pants to school, instead of skirts or dresses, because it made it easier to sit on the floor with our students. In later years, some teachers chose to wear jeans.

I never bought into the jeans because I felt it was a question of respect. If we were dressed too much like kids, then the kids would be less apt to respect their teachers. The idea was separation — a child from an authority figure.

And I daresay kids behaved themselves better in those days. There WAS a great deal more respect. And that respect was commanded — we insisted they refer to us more formally (Mrs. Brown), we looked the part, and expected our students to respect that authority.

So what does this authority question have to do with patient empowerment?

A theme I hear so very frequently is the idea of patients being afraid to truly communicate with their doctors. And it’s easy to see why that happens. You are stuck in a chilly, brightly lit room, stripped nekkid, sitting on a table with paper wrapped around you….

And then the doctor refers to YOU by your first name. “How are you doing, John?” While you call HIM by the respectful title of doctor! “I’m having trouble with my knee, DOCTOR Green.”

Could this be one of the reasons we are afraid to communicate? Do we patients feel a disconnect between who is respecting whom? And isn’t it just compounded further by the failure of so many doctors to give us the time we need, to sincerely explain what’s wrong with us, and what it will take to fix it?

Are we just like the children in my first-grade classroom — being asked to respect an authority? Sorry — but I have a real problem with that.

I don’t have answers here. I just throw out the question. If we are to be partners, and communicate effectively with our doctors, then why do we begin the entire relationship on an uneven footing?

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4 Responses to “Why Do We Call Them Doctor?”

  2. p.s. A very well-described post regarding “doctor”…I have yet to have just “one” sit down, calm-down, look me in the eyes, & simply ask…”HOW ARE YOU, Bill?”

  3. I think, Trisha, that this former primary/middle-level educator now w/non-Hodgkin’s receive in a “public apologetic piece” from you, as due me! I was unfairly “made public” during a supposed rant-you-described, (8/07).

    My challenge to change the “ways” cancer patients & caregivers are treated, is my goal and I welcome you as well as your readers to key-up, “LancasterOnline”…they should be able to find a (hopefully)well-written “non-rant” by me, “L William Sheely”, as related to the recent shooting(by police) of a just-released cancer-patient from “the system” here in “pristine & perfect”, Lancaster County, Pa…the title of my former-blog during that 8/2007-period?…”anotheramishlandtragedy.typepad.com“…now as; “Hell…hurt…heal…help”(Yahoo 360). THANK YOU!

  4. Tina says:

    Oh, my gosh. This really struck a chord. And I was married to a doctor. I used to give him what I called Doctor 101 Lessons, from a nurse perspective.

    I hate it when I am not given eye contact by a physician. That is truly demeaning. I don’t want to be called by my first name unless I give someone permission.

    I agree with the points listed here. Patient know thy physician. Was he in the top of his class or the bottom?
    Check him out online. There are now sites which allow you to rate your doctor.

    Great post, Trisha.

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