Calling a PhD "Doctor".......

That’s it, just “Doctor” not “Dr. Jones”. Just “Doctor.” I have noticed some radio talk show hosts doing this and I am wondering if there is a protocol for it. Not taking anything away from the person who has earned a PhD, but I am wondering if it makes them feel uncomfortable, when we are so used to the word “doctor” referring to someone who has an MD?

It’s the correct form of address for someone who holds a doctorate or doctor of philosophy. The fact that lesser mortals, such as MD’s, may also, if somewhat incorrectly, be called “doctor” is irrelevant.

As I understand it, it is proper etiquette to refer to a PhD. as doctor (be it Dr. Whatever or simply “Doctor”) in the context of their particular field–while interviewing them about their work, addressing them in professional correspondence, etc. However, on social ocassions, only MDs should be called doctor.

It is suggested by one of my colleagues that there is a vital logic behind this. If a guest at a dinner party begins to choke on a canape, vital minutes could be waited while the guests run off to find the astrophysicist. . .

Squink isn’t too off the mark, though. The word doctor comes from “teacher” so historically speaking, academics are as entitled or more to the title.

I don’t have a PhD yet, but I would never feel uncomfortable if addressed as “Doctor.” Obviously, it’s a sign of respect.

I assume you are thinking of ackk Dr Laura on radio.

This is gauche. To refer to oneself as “Dr.” in context is absolutely appropriate. If one has a doctorate in anthropology, and refers to oneself as “Dr” in casual converstation, IMO this is insufferably pompous.

My SO is an MD. We’ve discussed this very question. He only refers to himself as “Dr.” or **** *******, MD, if it’s in a professional context.

Disclaimer: I am not Miss Manners. :smiley:

My father is a PharmD (Doctor of Pharmacy), and as such is entitled to be addressed as “Dr. Rosenthal”. Most of the time, however, he prefers to be addressed as “Andy” and only asks to be called “Dr.” if he’s acting in a professional capacity (such as a lecture or in court), or if he doesn’t like you.

The best advice is to ask how the PhD prefers to be addressed.


Hmm…I can’t say that I have generally heard academic Ph.D.s referred to just by “Doctor.” Of course, they are often called “Dr. Jones” but not just “Doctor.” It probably would not be incorrect to do so, but it just sounds weird.

There are lots of non-MDs who I might call just “Doctor,” but they would all be people who are acting in some kind of health-related capacity. Examples: Optometrists, shrinks, chiropractors. And dentists, of course.

(Radio talk show hosts who have their Ph.D.s in physiology (or whatever) don’t have any right to be on the air representing themselves as psychologists in any case, whether they are called “Doctor” or not.)

Incidentally, when I was teaching college (I don’t have my doctorate yet), I told my students to call me Elizabeth. They all called me “Professor Bean” (or just Professor) instead. I asked my department head about this, and she said it was fine for them to call me that, but it would not be okay for them to call me “Dr. Bean,” as that would be materially incorrect since I didn’t have my doctorate. So I let them call me Professor, but if they called me Dr. Bean, I corrected them.

Medical folks & some religous folks, who have a doctorate are casually referred to as “Doctor”.

PhD are not- unless, they are NOT a “professor”, and they are lecturing, etc, in their field.

Thus, eg “Dr. Laura” is incorrect. Her full name, followed by PhD is quite correct, as she certainly deserves that title.

I read about a legal case, when a man with a PhD who was giving Medical advice, and calling himself “Doctor”- got arrested & convicted. “Dr Laura” is getting quite close to that- as SOME of her advice is of the type that only a Psycologist should give.

“That’s DOCTOR Evil. I didn’t go through six years of evil medical school to be called ‘Mr.’ thank you.”

Sorry, but I just had to add that!

Don’t forget DOs (doctors of osteopathy) should be called Doctor as well as MDs

It is my understanding that you only address PhDs in work settings as Doctor. Dr Smith my professor but Mr Smith at home.

I reserve the right to call myself anything I darn well please. Sod etiquette!

Generally I don’t use the title out of a professional context, except when dealing with the more obstuctive type of customer service personnel.

An example is when I was trying to get my phone connected after moving to a new flat.I get in touch with British Telecom and am told that since there have been credit problems with the line in the past, I will have to await the decision of their credit reference team. I point out I have just moved there and so cannot possibly be responsible for non payment of bills at my new address, furthermore I can show them a years of recipts from the company that provided service at my previous address, proving I always paid in full. She was impervious to logic. Two weeks and several phone calls later I was still without a phone. A colleague said she always used Dr when she got tired of being ignored or treated like an idiot. So I tried again, this time introducing myself as Dr and then made the same enquiry as I had for the past two weeks. That time, I was not fobbed off, but got an apology and was connected by the time I got home from work…

It tends to be MDs that object to PhDs using the title, and I’ve even heard one guy trying to get the title reserved solely for the use of MDs. The excuse is if people next emegency medical help and ask for a doctor, they don’t want PhDs or Doctors of Law or whatever rushing forward. Well credit us with some sense - of course we are not going to do that, and given the bad press MDs are getting here in the UK at the moment, I’d certainly be quick to point out I wasn’t that sort of doctor :smiley:

It’s a bit of a sore point at the moment since I’m having a lot of trouble getting the personnel dept at work to use my title, despite the fact that it’s a prerequesite for my job! But apart from that, I prefer colleagues and students to use my first name.

Hear, hear, Sister!! (or Brother, as the case may be!) If I had my doctorate, I’d probably do the same thing.

I’m going to chime in with a little dissension.

According to my copy of Protocol: The Complete Handbook of Diplomatic, Official, and Social Usage, in the Unitied States, the holder of a PhD may be addressed as “Dr.” in both professional and social interaction.

It reads:

Official: Dr. John Doe
Social: Dr. John Doe or Mr. John Doe

It seems that if John Doe, PhD feels it is inappropriate to use “Dr.” socially, he is correct in using “Mr.” But, he would also be correct to use “Dr.”, if that was his preference.

At least in my university experience, we always addressed the professors as “Doctor X”, unless, as was frequently the case, we were asked to use the first name. This was California, after all. To say “Professor X” seemed terribly
old-fashioned and precious.

As a holder of a master’s degree I deprecate this tendency for every mother’s son to go around calling themselves ‘Mr.’ Let them earn it, as I did.

My dad is a pharm prof and has more than one PhD. He always preferred to be called “Doctor” and I think that is fine. As an M.D., I prefer not to be called “doctor” in most circumstances. As a resident (who no one realizes are MDs anyway), it is usually in the context of “So, would you like me to show you to our cheapest bottles of red, agsin, DOCTOR?”

It also depends on the situation and regional preferences. I work for a PhD-type doctor, but, except in class with undergraduates, she goes by Gisela. So do pretty much all of the professors in my department (that is, they go by their first names. If we called them all “Gisela” it would get confusing.)


My experience indicates otherwise.

Most professors I know who have PhDs use and prefer the Doctor title. The only people who refer to professors as “Professors” are generally college students. Or island castaways. It is also possible for a professor to not have a doctorate. Therefore, the once someone has acheived their PhD. they can and should be referred to as “doctor”.

However when you work in an institution full of MDs, PhDs, and most frightening of all, MD/PHDs, you can’t just refer to each other as “Doctor”. Otherwise you get a Spies Like Us scenario. Doctor. Doctor. Doctor. Doctor. Doctor. Doctor. Doctor…

I think a good rule of thumb is that you use the Doctor title with an PhD. just as you would with an MD. Just use “Doctor” wherever you would normally use “Mr.” or “Mrs.”

I’ve known Europeans with more than one doctorate (generally in things like marketing) that refer to themselves as “Doctors.” (i.e., Doctors Hans Schmidt)

At least until they get laughed out of an American room a few times, that is.

Germans are quite fond of titles, and it is not inconceivable that there are people who like to be referred to as Herr Doktor Professor X.

Well, to further muddy the waters I add this bit of trivia (possibly unsubstantiated as I recall reading this in The Wall Street Journal; skeptics may wish to verify):

The practice of referring to college professors as doctors arose in medieval Europe. Gradually, the term “doctor” was reserved only for those professors with more than one college degree. Eventually that system has become standardized to three progressively difficult and irrelevant college degrees (although the particularly bright and/or shrewd can skip a masters degree).

Back to the dark ages… The medical profession was not the most respected back in those times, for obvious reasons (more trivia: it was sometime in the 1930s that a person going to an MD had greater odds of getting better than those who ate grandma’s chicken soup). Some bright medical professional who should have had a career in marketing persuaded other medical “doctors” that calling themselves doctors would increase their professional standing.

Thus, the MDs coopted a term that had been solely the province of the over-educated. (I have a PhD, so I can get away with saying that… Call me doctor and I’ll be flattered; I’ll also give you an aspirin.)

At my alma mater, “professor” is a rank. There are Instructors, Assistant Professors, and Professors. One of the requirements for a full Professorship is to have a doctorate. This brings with it a significant increase in pay. So, at my school, a “professor” is more prestigious than a “doctor”.

I have heard teachers say “Don’t call me ‘doctor’ until I finish my degree.” and “I’m not a professor yet, just a doctor.”