A recent op-ed published by the Wall Street Journal, “Is There a Doctor in the White House? Not if You Need an M.D.,” has sparked a lot of controversy and immense backlash. The author Joseph Epstein, a former Northwestern University professor, first addresses the future First Lady as “kiddo” and continues with “’Dr. Jill Biden’ sounds and feels fraudulent, not to say a touch comic.”
As a doctor of medicine (and one that has delivered over 200 babies but more on that later), I have to say: Dr. Biden, please keep using your title. Other physicians do not have any problem with you or the other doctorate holders out there referring to themselves as “doctor.” It causes no harm, and anyone with an MD will not suffer. And we all know an EhD holder isn’t calling themselves a doctor to be fraudulent or to respond to something like an emergency on an airplane. These people have a doctorate – they are clearly way smarter than that. But I can tell you what I do have a huge problem with. Anyone who thinks it’s okay to call an adult woman “kiddo.”
In his opinion piece, Epstein writes that an unnamed “wise man” supposedly once said, “no one should call himself Dr. unless he has delivered a child.” This is very comical to me on at least two fronts to use Epstein’s own choice of wording. Unfortunately, the quote that he chose to use includes only “himself” and “he,” which comes off sexist as if only males can call themselves doctors. Yes, women still make up the minority of physicians currently in practice with 35.8%, but this will soon change because as of 2019, women now make up 50.5% of U.S. medical students.
Not every medical doctor has delivered a child unless your specialty is obstetrics and gynecology or family medicine or were lucky to deliver a baby as a medical student. I believe not calling a neurosurgeon “doctor” because they have never “delivered a child” is pretty laughable. Or what about all those frontline doctors dealing with the coronavirus pandemic who have not delivered a baby? Should they not be answering the call of “Dr.” when they are needed? Physicians aren’t even the only ones who can deliver a child – certified midwives can deliver babies.
The title of doctor was not merely bestowed on the soon to be first lady; it was hard-earned and well deserved. Anyone who goes through the rigorous schooling and process of receiving their doctorate, no matter the field has every right to use that title. And as Merriam-Webster pointed out, the word doctor comes from the Latin word for “teacher.” So, doctor is not a term that should only be applied to physicians. And with how much the world has been asking out of educators due to the global health crisis, we should be applauding all teachers like Dr. Biden, not asking them to drop their titles. With two master’s degrees and a doctorate in education, she’s a lifelong educator, one of today’s most important positions.
And I completely agree with Douglas Emhoff, soon to be second gentleman of the United States, that this story would never have been written about a man. Women, even those running for the highest offices in the country, tend to be called by their first name as opposed to their male colleagues. I personally am still in the habit of introducing myself as “doctor” only to patients but using my first name with other physicians and staff. And, indeed, some female physicians don’t even like referring to themselves as “doctor” because of the impersonal culture it may breed. But I do believe that in certain situations I have been through, it may have saved everyone a lot of time if the person I was speaking to was made aware of my level of knowledge and expertise.
It’s also well documented that women try to speak less about all their personal achievements than men. This is due to many factors but includes the societal norm that a woman should always remain modest and less boastful than her male counterparts. But women should always be extremely proud of their accomplishments and, yes, use their deserved title even if chauvinism tries to dissuade them.
The Wall Street Journal is getting a lot of criticism for even posting the op-ed. I do wonder if the editors decided to post it despite knowing the piece was illogical that maybe allowing Epstein to voice his thoughts (no matter how misogynistic and harmful) would spark conversation. And also, there’s just so much more to be distressed over in current times – such as people dying in record numbers. Is this really what’s inciting Epstein’s rage right now that he decided to sit down and wax poetic about it?
Maybe there is a silver lining in all of this. There is tremendous support for the future first lady, and the op-ed brought many people from all different walks of life together in defense of Dr. Jill Biden. Women have been adding “Dr.” to their titles on social media in an act of solidarity, and I hope they always continue to do so. Unfortunately, sexist people will continue to believe it’s the 1930’s and we should probably just leave them there. And just like what is happening now following that misguided opinion essay, I hope we will always empower one another.
So Dr. Jill Biden, from one doctor to another, always use your deserved title. You earned it.
Karen Tran-Harding is a radiologist who blogs at How the Other Side Thinks.
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