Doctor, doctor

The MB ChB medical degree confers a Bachelor’s degree only. True doctorates are PhDs. However, I am guilty of having the title of “Dr” on my bank card. This was only because I thought it might help me get a (larger) overdraft when first out of medical school. But otherwise, at the hairdressers, school gates, and in the world at large, I am Mrs Married. At work, I generally introduce myself without title and then explain what my job is — ie, a GP. On aircraft, I am most definitely Mrs and will always offer to mind the children while my medical husband answers the call for “any doctor on board?”.

In other words, I can’t quite explain why some people seem to get joy out of calling themselves “Dr” at every opportunity – it’s unnecessary and rarely useful to oneself. But it may be useful for patients. I have pondered this as I have observed signs outside chiropractors premises with “Dr” in front of all the names, and dental surgeries too.

The background to this is one of increasing confusion and blurring of identities of many people who work in healthcare with potentially confusing titles (nurse practitioner, nurse consultant, specialist practitioner, house officer, Foundation Year 1, Foundation Year 2, specialist trainee, etc). Of course, other healthcare workers may have a PhD but not a medical degree and be correct in calling themselves Dr (certainly technically more correct than Bachelor medics using the title). But surely the crux is in making sure patients, who probably have more important things on their minds, have a clear idea about who is who?

The medical colleges and the General Medical Council have been rather quiet on this topic. But the Advertising Standards Authority recently reached a couple of interesting judgments. First, against Wigan Chiropractic Clinic. The advert the clinic placed was found to be misleading, in that it implied that the chiropractors were medically qualified by describing them as doctors. (“Who can a Chiropractor treat? Our Doctors are well experienced at treating everyone.”) There were more complaints also upheld about the clinic, but more on that later.

The other recent judgment made by the ASA was that against a dental surgery  where the dentist had advertised his practice using the title “Dr” before his name. The ASA said that “the title ‘Dr’ before a practitioner’s name should not be used in ads unless the practitioner held a general medical qualification, a relevant PhD or doctorate (of sufficient length and intensity) or unless the similarities and differences between the practitioner’s qualifications and medical qualifications were explained in detail in the ad”.

The use of medical titles shouldn’t be about prestige (and it’s debatable whether ‘Dr’ confers any) or snobbery, but accurate information for patients and colleagues.

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