I’m a physician. But please don’t call me doctor.



I work in a place where nobody calls me by my name.

They all address me by a moniker of their choosing that I have asked them not to use.  I have asked them to use my name.  Aside from a few who respect my wish, most of my co-workers just call me by the impersonal-sounding phrase they’ve selected instead.  It creates distance and makes me feel as though they are talking to a mask instead of to me.  The result is that I feel isolated and unseen.  I feel as though I am valued for my function first and acknowledged as a person second.

I’ve chafed about this “Dr. ***” bull since my first year out of medical school, eight years ago.  I remember explaining to a young nurse, during an overnight shift, that I didn’t feel that my degree gave me the right to put on airs when everyone else in the hospital goes by their first name.  She was visibly awed by my humility.  As a resident, I always introduced myself to my patients with my first name, aiming to lead my juniors and medical students by example.  Thou shalt not put thyself on a pedestal.  Thou shalt not gratuitously increase the power imbalance in the doctor-patient relationship.  The nurses and therapists are our colleagues, not our vassals, and what we call each other should reflect that.

And I was lucky to train in a collegial environment where we called most of our attendings by their first names.  If only doctors did it that way outside the Midwest.  One of my attendings even made the argument that it is safer for patient care because it’s easier for subordinates to raise concerns when they’re not verbally kowtowing to their superior.  I never respected a white-haired surgeon any less when I addressed him by his first name.  In fact, I saw that in non-clinical science, it is commonplace for the most junior researchers to call the most celebrated senior scientists by their first names.

But now I’ve moved to the South, and the nurses and the techs and the physician assistant call me by this ridiculously empty-sounding title, and straight-up refuse when I urge them to say my first name.  I get that they’re trying to show respect, but how is it respectful to go against someone’s wishes?  I still hate hearing “Dr. ***” and not just because I associate it with nurses needing orders to be placed.  It’s just not “me.”  I feel like I’m not fully there in their eyes.  There’s a lot of truth to the saying that the sweetest sound in any language is the sound of your name.

I’m deprived of that music daily.

The author is an anonymous physician.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com


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