Monday, March 16, 2009

Real Doctors

A tangential remark in Friday's post resulted in a lot of comments. I have not done a poll in ever so long, and clearly it is time for another one. The question of the moment is:

Are people who have a Doctor of Philosophy degree in a non-medical field and who are not practicing physicians nevertheless "real doctors"?

If you agree with the statement that Ph.D.s are not "real doctors", you should vote NO in the poll below. If you disagree and are possibly even somewhat offended by the statement that Doctors of Philosophy are not "real doctors", then you should vote YES.

I am voting NO for two reasons:

- When I think of a "doctor", I think of a medical doctor. I think I am not alone in this opinion. Therefore, despite sharing the title of "Dr." with my physician friends, I am quite content for them to be the "real" doctors and for me to be a different sort of "doctor". I am, however, a real philosopher. [<-- joke]

- The statement "I'm not a real doctor" is of course a reference to an old advertisement featuring an old actor who played in the old TV series that I never watched although I am old enough to have watched it, Marcus Welby, M.D.; i.e. "I'm not a real doctor but I play one on TV". Hence, most people who use the phrase "I'm not a real doctor" are making a culture reference, typically as a joke, and I do not think we should be deprived of this means of attempting humor by those who feel their (Ph.D.) doctoriness is impugned. In fact, I use this phrase all the time in my real life (Example: Once when my daughter fell and scraped her knee, my saying "I'm not a real doctor but I think you are bleeding" made her stop crying and laugh).

But don't let me influence your vote. Vote your conscience, and if the other side prevails in the poll, I shall work on getting used to the idea of being a real doctor.

Are people who have a Doctor of Philosophy degree in a non-medical field *real doctors*?
No
Yes
  
pollcode.com free polls

41 comments:

Anonymous said...

The "title" problem is a matter of English grammar. In Germany, for example, medical doctor – "Arzt" and scientific doctor – "Doctor". So, medical staff can not be referred as "Doctor Schmid. That is why many german medical doctors do MD-Phd to be called "Doctors".

Gingerale said...

In Latin, doctor means teacher. Who is best qualified to teach? Somebody who writes a dissertation. I vote yes in the poll.

Spiny Norman said...

I'd prefer a third answer: anyone who seriously cares about this needs to take themselves more than a trifle less seriously.

Anonymous said...

Although I hold a doctorate degree, I do not consider myself a "real (medical) doctor." This is because when someone asks me what my profession is, I say that I am a "scientist," not doctor.

Boris Legradic said...

I think that might be very much a cultural thing - try suggesting in Austria that only MDs are doctors: prepare to duck and cover! We Austrians are, as a rule, overly fond of our titles. In France, on the other hand, everybody is "Madame/Monsieur", regardless whether they have a title, are a secretary of state or the dean of an university.

Boris Legradic said...

follow-up: Forgot to click on the E-mail-follow-up button again. Probably because I am not yet a doctor ;)

Alex said...

This really gets down to the issue of prescriptive vs. descriptive linguistics, a source of many acrimonious and ultimately pointless arguments.

If one takes a prescriptive view, then Dr. is a title of academic origin, and any holder of a doctoral degree is a "real doctor." If one takes a descriptive view, then in ordinary parlance most people only encounter "doctors" in medical settings, and "doctor" is as much a title of authority (i.e. only The Doctor can do various things in hospitals) as of academic knowledge.

In most cases, taking a prescriptive view impedes communication and leads to lots of arguments. I figure that the point of language is to foster communication rather than arguments over definitions, so I take a descriptive view. Of course, the downside of the descriptive view is that in cases like this I get into arguments with other academics.

For the sake of consistency, I will take the descriptive view and say that I am "not a real doctor."

Anonymous said...

I tend to follow Randy Pausch's mother: "I'm a doctor, but not the kind that helps people!".

unlikelygrad said...

Randy Pausch (The Last Lecture) said that his mother used to say of him: "He's a doctor, but not the kind that helps people."

meta said...

On the contrary - PhD:s are real doctors, while those persons you meet in hospitals and health care centers sometimes may be doctors too, (MD:s), but more often they are physicians. :-)

Thomas Joseph said...

I am a real doctor. Says so on my diploma (which was hard-earned). Just because I don't go around calling myself one (I insist on people using my first name) doesn't mean I'm not entitled to the honorific. So I voted "Yes", and it's not because I'm "possibly even somewhat offended".

Anonymous said...

Obligatory Seinfeld reference:

Elaine: Jerry, the man is a doctor.

Jerry: Doctor? He’s a podiatrist.

Elaine: It’s the same thing.

Jerry: Anyone can get into podiatry school. *George* got into podiatry school.

Elaine: Really?

Bubblybunny said...

I think anyone who has the drive and tenacity to get themselves through a PhD has earned themselves the honour of being called a doctor. It is a title that comes with great achievement, respect and honour.

To me, a doctor is someone who devoted themselves to be an academic expert at any subject. So medical doctor is a doctor who specialized in medicine. A PhD in biology is a doctor who specialized in studying science of life. A PhD in mathematics is a specialist of numbers and theorems. A PhD in Latin is a specialist in language arts.

If a doctor has to be someone who spends his/her life helping others, well, PhD doctors accomplish just that. They contribute to society and help people in different ways.

Anonymous said...

In general, it seems the further out on the margins of academia one is, the more they care about being called "doctor".

Anonymous said...

I voted yes in the poll, but would never introduce myself at a random social gathering as a "Doctor" but rather as a "Scientist." However, within academia where I collaborate with MD's (and MD/PhD's), it annoys me if someone says that my degree is not "real" (this actually has happened, and it's usually a med student who says it and then gets glared at by the MDs, MD/PhDs, and PhDs alike).

Anonymous said...

If talking to one of my teachers at the university, I will generally refer to them interchangeably as either "Professor SoandSo" or "Doctor SoandSo" and generally refer to PIs in my department as "Doctor SoandSo." So in that sense, it's definitely an appropriate title. I agree that the job description for the two groups is "scientist" and "physician." So perhaps Doctor is a term of respect that could be used by either group, but not as a job description by either? I got so confused that I didn't vote.

female Science Professor said...

I am not asking whether people with Ph.D.s can use "Dr." as a title. I am asking specifically about whether people agree/disagree with the statement about being a "real doctor".

Anonymous said...

If one insists that only one group out of the highly accomplished academics and the licensed physicians are to be "real" doctors, then the only correct answer is the scholars.

We had the title first, it belongs to us, and we graciously allow them to use it out of vast respect for their work and accomplishments.

That said, I introduce myself with my names, and when people ask me "Are you a doctor?" I say "I'm a physicist with a Ph.D."

Anonymous said...

When a friend of mine got his Ph.D. about a year ago, we put up posters announcing his defense with the phrase "Thank goodness he isn't becoming that kind of doctor" and the xkcd comic http://xkcd.com/218/

Anonymous said...

Merriam Webster web site defines doctor (as a noun) as:

1 a: a person who has earned one of the highest academic degrees (as a PhD) conferred by a university b: a person awarded an honorary doctorate by a college or university
2: a person skilled or specializing in healing arts; especially : one (as a physician, dentist, or veterinarian) who holds an advanced degree and is licensed to practice

So in answer to FSPs specific query, then PhD holders are real doctors. I was interested the "being licenced practice in" part of definition 2 but not definition 1.

Anonymous said...

I voted no, too, FSP. My cite is Ms. Manners. And, it doesn't matter if the Ph.D. was in a biomedical field. What matters is if you are a physician, trained to treat people. My criterion is that when they announce "is there a doctor on the plane" you should be qualified to go and try to do something, if necessary, in an emergency. Of course, I know that some physicians might not actually feel qualified, but I think most would, in an absolute emergency.

(of course, this rule only applies in English -- those citing different rules for other languages might be working on completely different overall meanings of the word "doctor")

Anonymous said...

Of course in England you can be a 'doctor' meaning a General Practitioner, but if you specialise you get to be called 'Mr' (it usually is a Mr and I'm not sure what they do about the Ms/Mrs specialists) again. A surgeon will take real umbrage at being called "Doctor"!

yolio said...

What is wrong with side-stepping the whole ambiguous issue and saying, "I am not a medical doctor"?

It seems perfectly clear that there are medical doctors, and there are other kinds of doctors. Yes, it is true that most of the time when we use the word "doctor" we are referring to medical doctors, and I agree that concessions should be made to this point. But most of the time when we say "car" we are talking about automobiles. This does not mean that train cars aren't "real" cars.

Arguing that PhD's are not "real" doctors is to argue about trivial semantics that can not be resolved without resolving the ambiguity in the meaning of the word "real." This seems like a poor use of energy. On the other hand, insisting that PhD's are not "real" doctors seems like little more than a passive aggressive way to assert your own superiority by accusing others of being pompous. I believe the gracious way to act is to side-step the matter.

Thomas Joseph said...

My criterion is that when they announce "is there a doctor on the plane" you should be qualified to go and try to do something, if necessary, in an emergency.

FAIL.

My wife is an EMT. I'm sure she'd be able to help out ... probably more adequately than most doctors, who are not trained in emergency medicine.

pt said...

I've always found this discussion to be rather amusing, especially since doctorate degrees all conveniently come with adjective attached (Doctor of Philosophy, Medicine, Law, etc.). It seems that the common cultural practice in the USA is to set the default adjective to "medical". In an age where nouns are verbs, who am I to try to turn back the tide?

It does also seem useful to distinguish between the type of degree a person has received and their working title. Prior to obtaining my PhD I certainly did not insist that I was a "Master". Although, perhaps I should have...

Anonymous said...

I think it depends on context. If somebody decided to announce at me that I'm not a "real doctor" in an accusatory tone of voice, I would reply that I most certainly am. I do use the title on correspondance requiring titles - mostly because it lets me avoid the Ms/Mrs/Miss issue. I wouldn't, however, introduce myself as "Dr. Anonymous" unless the person I'm meeting has just introduced themselves as "Pretentious-Title Smythe". In which case, I figure they're asking for it.

And if somebody glanced at mail I was carrying and asked inquisitively if I'm a "real doctor", I'd say "I have a PhD in Science X". They can decide for themselves if that means yes or no. So, yes, I think I'm a "real" doctor - but I'll let others make up their own minds. Unless they're rude about it.

Anonymous said...

The problem is the word 'real'. Asking if someone is a "real" anything implies that to answer no is to admit to being a fake or fraud (which implies a dishonest character), or at the very least not being legitimate (which implies one is undeserving of respect). Thus when the question is framed "are you a REAL doctor" there is built-in, implied, accusatory tone already that puts appears as if your professional worth or even moral character is being challenged.

Compare being asked: "Are you a doctor" to "are you a REAL doctor". The second question tends to subconsciously put people on the defensive and then they start reading in between the lines about what the questioner is trying to say or imply... and then feel the need to defend why they should be able to say "yes" to the question (because saying "no" carries negative the connotations as mentioned above).

Anonymous said...

Do I get a prize for suggesting a similar poll back in January, as anonymous 10:26?

http://science-professor.blogspot.com/2009/01/just-call-me-f.html?showComment=1231820760000#c8521753834426527640

John said...

Doctor is too vague for my taste. I prefer Prof or just John.

Also, Doctor refers to my past, my education, whereas Prof refers to my present.

Anonymous said...

I think it is really hilarious how often the "what if you're on a plane and someone thinks you're a doctor" scenario always comes up during this topic. A lot of people brought that up when they asked me, in horrified tones, whether I planned to "use my doctor" after I graduated. Basically, there are a number of reasons this is ridiculous:

1. is there some cap on how many doctors can be on a plane? does me being on a plane with dr. written on my ticket mean that some "real" doctor got left off, thus leaving the passengers at risk?

2. how long would that really take to clear up, anyways? are they going to force you to to open heart surgery on the fly just because you wrote down 'doctor'. not likely.

3. I never put any title whatsoever on my airplane tickets. you don't even have to click the "Ms" button if you don't want to. I just use my name, and that is it. This seems like the least common scenario in which this would be awkward (more common being formal social things like wedding invitations and introducing yourself professionally)

4. how many emergencies actually happen on planes, anyways?

I really don't get this obsession...

Anonymous said...

I'm a PhD (as are most of my colleagues) and have never used my "Dr." title anywhere. In formal professional settings like on conference agendas where other people make the call, they write my name as "so-and-so, PhD." Or if I am interviewed in the media they refer to me as "Physicist so-and-so said..." ..On social occasions like invitations, no matter how formal, and certainly on plane tickets I never use "Dr." as I think it is ridiculous to do so (what are you trying to say if you do?). "Ms. or Mr." is certainly good enough for people who hold PhDs too.

Dr. No said...

I'll admit that I'm a doctor, but not a "real one"...on a quasi-random note, when I hear that people are engineers I immediately think they operate trains (even though I have never met a "real" engineer).

EliRabett said...

Eli is a virtual doctor

Anonymous said...

1. is there some cap on how many doctors can be on a plane? does me being on a plane with dr. written on my ticket mean that some "real" doctor got left off, thus leaving the passengers at risk?

2. how long would that really take to clear up, anyways? are they going to force you to to open heart surgery on the fly just because you wrote down 'doctor'. not likely.


if someone is having a heart attack or stroke on the plane, every second counts. There is no time to go to someone who said beforehand (such as on their plane ticket) they are 'a doctor" only to THEN find out that they are not medical doctors after all. Precious seconds lost can mean the difference between life and death or permanent brain damage in some common emergency situations. Personally I think that plane tickets should have an option to specify if you are an EMT or paramedic or nurse, not just "Dr."

Anonymous said...

I once met someone with a Ph.D. in nursing. I could see that leading to confusion at the hospital where she supervises students.

Anonymous said...

Real doctor, yes. Medical doctor, no. Simple!

Anonymous said...

This is a problem of language for those of us who go back and forth to the UK. Naturally here, we are professor so and so, but in the UK, to call someone a professor means that they are the equivalent of a full professor, and if they leave the post, they are no longer called professor so and so. Instead, one uses the honorific Dr so and so for anyone with a PhD. Thus, we Americans are mirror opposites from those across the Atlantic in this language. (I prefer our way 'once a professor always a professor')

Anonymous said...

The first time I saw my grandfather after completing my Ph.D. in mathematics, he told me, "Why do you want to be a doctor of philosophy when you could be a REAL doctor? As long as you are going to be at a university, you should take some classes on the side and get your MD."

Anonymous said...

I voted yes. You see in the UK a medical Dr is an honory title, bestowed if the said person meets the general medical councils criteria for being a Dr. If at any point the person fails to uphold the criteria, the title is lost. Once you get a PhD its yours for life and represents that you have a real qualification and such you are in fact the only people that can call oneself a Dr. But, just to say, here in the UK you can't put the title in a Passport as it causes confusion on planes, which is fair. I would never ask anyone to call me Dr, but i would be most offended if someone implied that i wasn't a real Dr.

Rhea Miller said...

So this brings up interesting emotions for me. I watched an 'on paper' squabble initiated by MDs to legally obtain the rights to the title "doctor" in the US. They claimed that it is too confusing to the public for PhDs, Doctors of Physical Therapy, Doctors of Nursing etc etc etc to be also called doctors. (I have no idea where I saw this document...it was while I was in school at one point and i think i saw some blog posts about it...but i have no good references for it...sry)

Ahem. Not that I view us as the same...and not that I plan to have people call me Dr. Miller...and not that it doesn't seem somewhat confusing to have multiple forms of Drs...BUT I am working damn hard for my PhD and back before we really had a formal MD education we had PhD Dr.'s. SoOOOooo as I see it MDs should take over a different name...like...Physician or Medical Doctor.

In getting your PhD you change the way you think...the way you process information. Thats what sets PhDs apart from others in the society. I feel like taking away the title Dr. would no longer address that change.

Sigh. This comment has NOTHING to do with your original post. oops....

Anonymous said...

I read this blog by someone named Jessica Palmer who was a Ph.D. and was offended that a public figure said he only considers those who heal the sick as doctors.
She tried to prove her point that Ph.Ds should be called Drs. by saying Ph.Ds spend more time in school, which is usually not true, and said in Germany, they don't recognize doctorates from other countries anyways. They charge some Ph.D.s for title fraud. Then I realized she didn't know they do recognize medical doctors, and this clarified for me why we designated that title more for M.Ds. EVERY civilized country will recognize a medical doctor.
I just feel embarrassed for Ph.Ds when they make a BIG deal out of a Dr. title. As an attorney, would I demand to be called a Doctor because of a juris doctorate? NO!
If you went in for the title then you did not do it for the right reasons anyways.