What’s in a name? Doctors, titles, and pretense
Recently, Med Valley High asked about whether it was appropriate to insist on being called “Doctor” in a social setting or to introduce yourself as “Doctor Soandso.” I sometimes struggle with social convention, as I am in some ways a radical and in others, a conservative sheep hiding in the corner.
I’ve thought about some of the unwritten rules that I try to follow. They seem pretty safe to me, but some days I feel more doctorly than others, so I have an inextricable bias.
1. Wherever possible, use the most respectful title: “This is Dr. Soandso, Head of Surgery” and let them correct anyone else if they prefer to be called ‘Jim’ instead.
2. If you are about to introduce someone and you aren’t 100% on how to say their name even if you’ve known them for years, that’s a good time to figure it out finally. It goes something like “hey, how do you say your last name exactly? I don’t want to get it wrong!” and they are usually keen to help out. You then get to show off that you were listening when you help them make a grand entrance!
1. It always depends on the context, but generally you should say whatever it is you like to be called while performing the task you are performing. At hockey, I am “Jess” because it’s easier to yell
2. With patients, I usually say “Hi, I’m Dr. Otte but you can call me Jessica if you like” and secretly giggle if they say “yes, Doctor!” I also wear a nametag with my full name preceded by “Dr.” so they know my role because I don’t look as ‘doctory’ as I could. Also, I read a paper ages ago that said patients prefer doctors with white coats, handshakes, and nametags – and I hate white coats!
3. When I meet doctors/nurses/non-patients in the medical setting, I’ll say my first name and “I’m one of the Residents” or “I’m the Resident with X service” because they usually know what that means. Sometimes I’ll mention my last name because people don’t know how to say it, and I don’t want them to feel uncomfortable and need to ask me about it later on. I won’t correct them if they mangle my last name because as long as they spell it right in the chart, it doesn’t matter! The only time I would like a nurse to call me “doctor” is in front of the patient, if I’ve not yet met the patient. It just helps keep my role congruous in the patient’s mind.
4. When I’m on the phone to clinics or wards, I usually say “It’s Dr. Otte” so they know that it’s the doctor calling to speak to the nurse or another doctor. This can expedite things and few receptionists will put you on hold for an hour under this system. I also say “Dr. Otte” on the phone when calling patients or families so they immediately know what the call is about. I think it’s funny when they yell “oohhh, it’s the doctor!” to the family that happen to be in their house at the moment. It’s very sweet! (You can tell I’m not used to this MD thing yet, right?)
Other doctor name and role etiquette:
1. Regarding putting your title on credit cards, I haven’t done this one yet. I’ll admit that I’m tempted to see what happens – anecdotally, people say they get better service; I imagine that expectations for high tips and ‘coming to the rescue’ are also much higher. I look a lot more like a PhD than an MD (I’m young, have a piercing, and wear casual/funky clothes when I travel), so the airline staff would probably think I’m just a pretentious twit anyway.
2. Female doctors are regularly confused as being nurses, male nurses are often seen as the doctor. I am not a nurse. My dad is a nurse. He’s the moustache man in his hospital’s “Caring Spirit Brochure” for heck’s sake! I am not THAT caring! I will correct people if they say “Nurse, please, I need a bedpan.” I’ll tell them that I’m a doctor – and I’ll get them a bedpan if I know where one is, unless the nurse is nearby and not preoccupied. It just makes life for everyone easier.
3. Talking about the job is a challenge. I’m proud of what I do, and I believe I’ve worked hard to get here. Despite that, I ought not to rub it in people’s faces. It takes practice to get over the “dooood, I’m a doctor! oh my godddd! I’m a doctor” phase but I’m getting there. When people ask “oh, what do you do for work?” I try to say ‘healthcare.’ If they really don’t care, they’ll stop there. Most people dig deeper, so then I’ll tell ’em straight up, but then promptly move on to ask about their profession.
That usually goes okay, however guilt or shame sometimes kills me when they say “I work at MacDonald’s” because I feel like a turd; this is mitigated if they actually really enjoy their job. Part of it is my latent condescension thinking ‘what non-teenager would want to work for MacDonald’s?’ but I’ve learned that there are people who like it and have some hilarious stories about their time there. Ask about the treads of their shoes! Actually, instead of profession, what I’d rather ask is what kind of music a person listens to – that is a way that is easy to relate to all people and it’s hard to find someone who doesn’t have any musical taste in common with whom I don’t have some favourite band in common.
4. It’s always fun to laugh at names of people who don’t exist (or aren’t within earshot!). Here are some funny names including lots of unfortunate doctors’ names for when you are bored – most of them are miserable. I like “Hugh Jorgan,” “Les Plack” (a dentist), and Dr. I. Ball (optometrist).
What do you think? Am I really a turd?