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J R Soc Med. 2006 July; 99(7): 333.
PMCID: PMC1484565

Miss, Mister, Doctor: How we are titled is of little consequence

Gerald Feaver, General Dental Practitioner

I found the editorial (April 2006 JRSM1) on how we are titled most interesting. This is a continuation of the debate that the dental profession has been having for many years, fuelled by both an influx of overseas graduates styling themselves as ‘Doctor’, and by the development of the role of dentists from ‘toothwrights’ to practitioners with a more holistic approach encompassing the oral health and well-being of those in their care.

However all of us, physicians, surgeons, general practitioners and dentists have one thing in common—patients. But that may be about to change. The same week as the editorial appeared, the chief executive of the Sussex Partnership NHS Trust ordered staff not to refer to people receiving medical care as patients but as clients.

This not only demonstrates a misunderstanding of our roles but also devalues both practitioners and those that we care for. Patients are not simply clients or users of health services. Patients are those receiving care, who are given time, are listened to and treated with sympathy, understanding and expertise. There is something special about the term patient, and although to give a precise dictionary definition is difficult, it is well understood by those who deliver the care.

How we are titled may well, as the editorial states, be of little consequence; far more important is how we refer to, and perceive, those in our care.


Competing interests None declared.


1. Treasure T, Tan C. Miss, Mister, Doctor: how we are titled is of little consequence. J R Soc Med 2006;99: 164-5 [PMC free article] [PubMed]

Articles from Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine are provided here courtesy of Royal Society of Medicine Press