A PhD who’s no longer a doctor in medical school

I’m a doctor. My mail comes with the Dr. prefix and my checks have Dr. on them. People introduce me as Dr. and when I go to conferences I am Dr. SuFu. However as of a couple months ago I’m no longer a doctor. With the donning of the white coat I paradoxically lost a degree and became a first name or Mr. SuFu. My name badge makes no reference to the last 5 years of my life, nor do any of the mailings, collages or class handouts. In the clinic as a medical student my Ph.D. degree in Biomedical Science is as noteworthy as the roll of toilet paper in the bathroom. I sacrificed a great deal of time and effort to receive my degree and I am very proud of it. Whereas other professions are proud of their students to have a prior graduate degree (e.g. MBA’s in law school) my degree has been swept under the cadaver table. While I understand the implications of not wanting to confuse patients with a Ph.D. degree the sheer lack of acknowledgement by my former colleagues is saddening.

I always planned on introducing myself as Mr. SuFu when in the clinic. I completely understand that an introduction of Dr. SuFu in the clinic could confuse the patients and I would never endanger the life of a patient or disrupt the hierarchy of medicine by claiming to be something I am not.

When I asked the dean, to please attach my degree to my name badge, I was told that it would set me apart from my fellow classmates and make me stand out to the attendings. My response was that all of them know about my degree, it’s tough for something like that to not be spread around rather quickly. I asked a few of my classmates for their opinion and they don’t care, I’m one of them. They come to me with questions about the classes I taught and some come talk with me because they have a genuine interest in getting into research but don’t know how to proceed. Either way my degree has been beneficial to my classmates.

I don’t feel that in today’s medical world a medical student with a Ph.D. in biomedical science would present a target for attending physicians. There are numerous combined MD/PhD programs throughout the nation where the student completes their PhD requirement before the final two clinical years. Do I think my degree will give me an advantage when I enter the clinic? Absolutely and unequivocally not. Right now as a first year medical student, I can’t tell the difference between heart murmurs or even hear one unless it’s shaking the bed. However, I do think my research based doctoral degree gives me a different perspective on medicine. My doctoral research was focused on the areas of oncology that are in clinical trials. I know more about the current state of oncologic clinical than the majority of people. I have personal knowledge of the rigors, time, effort and heartbreak that go into participating on a clinical trial for a chronic and potentially life threatening disease (I am currently a participant in the DEFEND-2 trial). My knowledge of these things could be of interest to the attending, but unless they have followed my career or have looked me up on PubMed they may assume that I am “just another medical student.”

So what am I? Am I a medical student? Am I researcher? I am both and I’m very proud of that. My training in clinical translational research, IRB approval, grant writing and manuscript preparation do set me apart from my classmates, but they have also benefitted from my experiences. I just wish that the powers that be, who are also Ph.D.’s would acknowledge it. I’m the wrong type of doctor for the next four years. Until then my suffix will have to suffice with the standard abbreviation for a medical student, MS, instead of the proper title SuFu, Ph.D., MS-1.

“SuFu” is a first year medical student with a PhD in biomedical science who blogs at Diabetically Mind Numbing.

Submit a guest post and be heard on social media’s leading physician voice.

Comments are moderated before they are published. Please read the comment policy.

  • Christine Dahlin

    My husband has a PhD in physics, I am an MD. Believe me, he  sweated just as much as I did, just with inanimate objects. At work, he’s Dr( spouse) but when I introduced him as such, we got, but he’s not a real doctor.
    Totally get it.

  • http://abnormalfacies.wordpress.com/ Abnormal Facies

    You could always get your own name tag to wear or embroider your white coat if it means that much to you – I would be surprised if the administration at your school made a fuss over something like that.  Most of your patients will not notice it or even appreciate what it means.

  • Anonymous

    You earned the PhD and should be proud to wear the title, as a suffix. As for the Dr prefix, sometimes in medicine we have to make things easy for our patients to understand. Unlike PhD’s talking to their clients and coworkers, we as MD’s often bring things down a level for understanding. So in the clinic I would address myself as Student SuFu or your first name if you wish. That way you don’t confuse patients or the hierarchy of traditional medicine everyone is accustom to.

    Around professors or other people of academia, I would prefer Dr SuFu to Mr SuFu as the difference would be clear to everyone and clearly an earned title that should be used in formal situations like college.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2LRZNHDZS6DU45WQ567LPQ7CMI ninguem

    Do the other med students have name tags that say Joe Blow BA or Mary Smith BS or Manny Yutz MS?


    So what’s the big deal.

    “Doctor” can mean any of a number of doctorate degrees, but in the English language “A” doctor means a physician.

    Actually, I think we should go back to the older title “physician and surgeon” to distinguish from the nursing PhD’s and all the others who want to encroach on the title. Plus, medicine is not considered a doctoral degree in many parts of the world, they still award the MBBS.

    When did the USA stop awarding the MBBS, 19th century, early 20th, I don’t know.

  • Anonymous

    Your checks have Dr. on them?  Really?  Oh, my; that’s not something I ever considered doing with my personal account.

    I have news for you:  your classmates don’t care, or benefit, as much as you think they do from knowing you’re a PhD.  Additionally, if you haven’t figured it out already, medical school is partly about the hierarchy, and you really don’t want to stand out to the attendings.  Like it or not, you are “just another medical student”… and it’s not so bad to be a medical student if you know your material and hold up your end.  Do that, and you’ll be successful.  Be a special snowflake, and you will suffer.

    From someone who’s contemplating the double doctorate herself:  get over yourself.

  • Anonymous

    I too started medical school later in life after obtaining other degrees, military and private business experience.

    I wanted to have B.S. Civil Engineering, B.S. Environmental Engineering, Master Parachutist, Green Beret, Ranger, Paramedic, Certified Laser Specialist, Soldier of Fortune and all around good guy after my name but alas it was not to be.

  • A Kazen

    This is really funny to me, because at my undergrad institution, PhD’s were never called “doctor” by convention. Now I am at a different institution for medical school where anyone who has any degree lists it after their name. PhD’s are definitely “doctor” here. It just seems cheap to me. Your degree doesn’t define your intellect, it only reveals your level of training in a particular area. You shouldn’t be so desperate for everyone to think you are smart. 

Most Popular