Intended for healthcare professionals

Views And Reviews Christmas 2020: House of God

Should her name begin with “Doctor”?

BMJ 2020; 371 doi: (Published 16 December 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;371:m4754
  1. Julie K Silver, associate professor
  1. Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA
  1. julie_silver{at}
    @JulieSilverMD on Twitter

What we call ourselves, and how others refer to us, matters. This is perhaps nowhere more important than in a professional setting, where the use of titles or first names has the potential to bring up gender and equity issues. A recent column in The BMJ by David Oliver on whether doctors should use their first names,1 started a lively debate in the rapid responses, with many responses coming from US women. Oliver wrote, “Personally, I set great store by being human and approachable and would never insist on using titles: ‘David’ is fine.” As a workforce gender equity researcher, I was invited to discuss this important topic.

Oliver begins, “I work in an 800 bed hospital employing over 4000 people, yet everyone knows the chief executive and the chief operating officer as ‘Steve’ and ‘Dom.’” Notably, these examples are men, so one might consider how the culture of using first names may be influenced by a cloak of privilege at the top. After all, women in the US and many other countries are often represented in top leadership positions at very low levels. For example, there are more men named John than there are women in many leadership positions.2 A deep dive into the promotion of women in medicine by Richter and colleagues, studying more than 500 000 graduates from 134 US …

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