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Do you call the doctors by their first names?

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Would you call a doctor by his or her first name? Do you?

This is another “taboo” subject in the circles of nursing. For some strange reason, the consensus of opinions seems to be split down the middle.

My knee-jerk answer is no, but admittedly, I have addressed numerous physicians by their first names. Some actually requested it, while with others, I think it was just a level of comfort.

Is it right? Is it wrong?

I think it’s ultimately the physician’s opinion that matters, but professional courtesy cannot be ignored. I don’t know about you, but if I were a physician–after 15+ years of various schooling and the long, arduous training–I’d darn well want to be addressed by my title.

But on the other hand, maybe there is a level of comfort that goes along with being on a first-name basis? I mean, if the physician is okay with it and even requests it, how can it be wrong?

I have a loosely based theory (don’t I always?). I think it’s deeply rooted in tradition and not so much in professionalism. There has been a weird paradigm shift: Physicians are becoming more and more comfortable with being addressed by their first name instead of their title. And maybe I’m sticking my foot in my mouth here, but if I’m not mistaken, most nurses were addressed, traditionally, as “Nurse ___.” Now, most nurses are simply addressed by their first names.

The “older generation” was fixated on titles, while the “current generation” seems to be a bit more flexible.

Far be it from me to say either way is right or wrong. I, for one, think if you’ve earned the title, by all means use it. But don’t you find it a bit ironic that the older generation’s doctor-nurse relationship was traditionally more rigid and segmented? While they worked as a team, they certainly were not treated as fellow team members (need I remind anyone of the handmaiden stereotype?). And currently, the team approach is at the forefront of the medical community and nursing world alike.

Just me and a simple observation. Care to add yours?

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5 Responses to Do you call the doctors by their first names?

  1. heidimatlock RN

    I work in the ER and call most of the ER docs by their first name at the nurses’ station but never in front of family or patients. But if the docs are a good deal older than me, I feel weird using their first name at all.

  2. DaveMcGrath RN

    Sean I agree with you about professional courtesy, and especially in conversations with patients I would always use the Doctor title. Some of the ER docs actually became personal friends, and I would always call them by their first names, while with others, especially of the older generations, we would stick to titles and last name. One of the ER docs is still a cherished friend of myself and my family. I smile recalling how the kids would call him “Doctor John.”

  3. nursekae RN

    I don’t call docs by their first name in front of patients or family. Usually, I wait for the doctor to say “Call me Jack/Jill” or something along those lines if I don’t know them well.

  4. I think it is totally based on personal relationship. I only address certain doctors by their title and last name. Others, I feel totally comfortable using their first name. I know that if I was a doctor, I would encourage people to call me by my first name. That title should not come with a sense of entitlement and arrogance; unfortunately it often does.

    • trishrn11

      I am of the generation where I would not call anyone, such as a doctor, by their “given” name without permission. I still follow that rule with doctors and patients. If someone let’s me know it is acceptable, then I will use their first name. Just my take on it…

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