Someone asked me a couple of days (while waiting for a meeting to start) if I am a ‘real doctor’ – I replied that ‘if it helps, I am not a medical doctor’.
Now this is not the first time that I get this question and depending on the context, I would try to ‘educate’ the other party on what the title ‘Doctor’ means and since I have some free time now (waiting to go for lunch with my family – it’s a Saturday), I’m going to blog on this topic 🙂
The ‘Doctor’ as a title
Doctor, as a title, originates from the Latin word (gen.: doctoris) which means teacher. The word is originally an agentive noun of the verb docēre (‘to teach’). It has been used as an honored academic title for over a millennium in Europe, where it dates back to the rise of the university. This use spread to the Americas, former European colonies, and is now prevalent in most of the world. Abbreviated “Dr” or “Dr.”, it is used as a designation for a person who has obtained a doctorate-level degree. Doctorates may be research doctorates or professional doctorates.
The explanation above is taken from Wikipedia but it is a fairly accurate depiction of the title.
Physicians as ‘Doctors’
Well a physician or a dentist (or even a nurse) can be called ‘Doctors’ if they earned doctoral degrees in their respective field – example, Doctor of Medicine or M.D, is a doctoral degree for physicians.
On a side note, there are physicians who holds the M.B.B.S, which stands for ‘Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery’ and not Medical Doctorates. The M.B.B.S holders are given the courtesy title of ‘Doctors’ even though the Medical Doctorate is available to them as an advanced degree. To highlight another example, in German language-speaking countries, the word ‘Doktor’ always refers to a research doctorate holder and is distinct from ‘Arzt’, a medical practitioner.
The question that usually follows at this point is – So there are other Doctorates other than the PhD?
The PhD is not the only Doctorate Degree
Well, the PhD stands for ‘Doctor of Philosophy’ and is one of the many variants of doctorates available out there (although it is the most common one). A PhD is a research doctorate and I did a professional doctorate with a thesis in health informatics.
(Read this article if you wanna learn more about the differences between a research and a professional doctorate)
Why ‘Doctors’ are always assumed to be Physicians
So why is it that these days, when one mention ‘Doctor’, it is automatically assumed to refer to medical physicians?
Well, its simple, (almost) everyone would have visited a physician at least once in their lifetime but not everyone went to university. Hence the perception (or stereotyping) sat into the larger community and over time – viola, the title ‘Doctor’ became automatically associated with medical physicians (although in academia, it remains very clear).
A ‘Doctor’ is really just a basic title
Working in academia (teaching health informatics) and healthcare (implementing health informatics) and research (on health informatics), a doctorate is considered a very basic requirement.
If you noticed, other than the ‘Dr.” salutation, there are others like ‘A/Prof’ or ‘Prof’ which stands for ‘Associate Professor’ and ‘Professor’ respectively. Professor in Latin refers to a “person who professes” and is usually an expert in some art or science; a teacher of high rank.
Hence simplistically put, a ‘Doctor’ stands for a teacher while a ‘Professor’ stands for a senior teacher.
I remember a quote from a professor (before I did my doctorate), it goes something like this;
When you get your Bachelor’s degree, you think you know everything.
Then, you get your Master’s, and you realize that there are some things that you don’t know.
Then you get your Doctorate, and you find out that you don’t know anything.
Well, by now you would have realized that not all doctors are made the same. The doctors that are making a lot of money are physician (medical doctors) and sadly, other doctors (like yours truly) just happened to be passionate about a particular subject (in this case, health informatics) or wishes to teach in academia (again, one of the other reasons why I did my doctorate).
I hope this article / blog post helped shred some enlightenment on the title ‘Doctor’, it’s origins from academia, not medical and that by definition, I am a ‘real doctor’ whereas not all medical physician have a doctorate.
Then again, does it really matter? 🙂