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I was interested to see that the survey on preferred titles (April 2006 JRSM1) was restricted to ENT surgeons. In my first pre-registration house job many years ago, one of my ‘chiefs’ was a bombastic and irascible ENT surgeon who, on one occasion when a nurse had the temerity to address him as ‘doctor’, responded ‘Call me sir, I'm not a doctor!’ I considered it an unwise career move to observe that ‘sir’ was also inappropriate as he was neither a knight nor a baronet.
Strictly speaking, the only people entitled to use the title ‘doctor’ are those holding doctoral degrees, whether in medicine, philosophy, music, science, law or whatever. Indeed, in Germany, if one remarked that a person was a doctor, one would immediately be asked ‘of what?’.
I agree that the term ‘specialist’ is unsatisfactory. Perhaps hospital consultants could use the term ‘professor’, which simply means that they profess to know something; but it would sound impressive and enhance their placebo effect. The teachers at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry are all called professor, and it must be admitted that the magical arts and the practice of medicine have a very great deal in common.
Competing interests MD and a visiting professor.