Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Christmas 2019: Fight the Power

Time’s up for he and him as the default pronouns for doctors

BMJ 2019; 367 doi: (Published 16 December 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;367:l6565
  1. Elizabeth Loder
  1. Correspondence to E Loder eloder{at}

Most doctors are or will be women—our language should reflect that reality

“Hello, I’m Dr Quigley. My pronouns are he/him. How would you like to be addressed?”1

“Welcome to our meeting. Before we begin, we’d like to go around and share our names and personal pronouns.”2

Increasingly, doctors and patients are expected to share pronoun preferences. Do you want he/him/his, she/her/hers, they/them/theirs, the non-gendered ze/hir/hirs, or something else? The gender neutral pronoun revolution is well under way. Despite this, the vocabulary used to describe doctors remains stubbornly masculine. Most people default to generic masculine pronouns to describe a doctor whose gender is unknown.

A patient recently greeted me by saying, “The new medical assistant thinks you’re a man! The assistant said, ‘When you see Dr Loder, be sure to tell him about your new medications.’ ‘Dr Loder is a woman,’ I said, but a few minutes later it was the same thing again: ‘When you see Dr Loder, make sure he sees your blood pressure reading.’”

I’d be outraged—except that I’ve done the same thing many times. Last week, for example, a patient …

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