By Jason Ford, via Flickr.

By Jason Ford, via Flickr.

. . . and the PhD turns to her and says . . . (Sorry. That’s copyeditor humor—dangling modifiers and all that.)

My question for you is, should that nurse (let’s call her Beverly Smythe) be called Dr. Smythe? It’s an intriguing question, if only because it seems that some people think the answer is no. Diana Mason (PhD, RN, FAAN) mentioned this in her editorial last August.

I am sometimes referred to as an arbiter of style questions at AJN, and although I did write (or rewrite) the style guide we use here, I inherited quite a few of the little style quirks and ticks that make AJN what it is (and I’ve installed quite a few myself). One of the tidbits I inherited was that we never use the word “doctor” when we’re talking about a physician.

For a long time, I couldn’t figure out why that was. I thought (I confess), “Man, these nurses are touchy about the weirdest things!” That is, until the AMA began calling for a ban on the use of the word “doctor” in hospitals unless it refers to a physician, on the grounds that it might confuse patients. Now I find myself thinking, “Man, these physicians are touchy about the weirdest things!”

There are a lot of other people in the world who can claim the title “doctor.” Anyone with an academic PhD (honorary degrees don’t count) or a doctorate in education (EdD), podiatrists, chiropractors, veterinarians, dentists, some physical therapists, some pharmacists—the list goes on, I’m sure. The point is that physicians get nervous about all those other doctors out there.

What I want to know is how this is playing out in the real world. Are you a hospital nurse with a PhD or do you know hospital nurses with PhDs? And do physicians—or other hospital employees (even nurses)—hesitate to call you Doctor? I’d love to know. I always followed the rule here at AJN, but now I know why I do, and I’m all for it.

Now, if you’re one of those physicians who think the title should be banned for everyone but you, I say this to you: Physician, hush thyself.
—The Word Curmudgeon (Doug Brandt, AJN associate editor) provides occasional and crusty contemplations for the writing nurse, from a copyeditor’s perspective.

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