Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:

Clinical Review Clinical evidence

Urinary tract infection in children

BMJ 1999; 319 doi: (Published 30 October 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;319:1173

Rapid Response:


Dear Editor

When am I we? Sharing or holding onto authority?

I have difficulties with 'we', which seems to crop up a lot in
medicine speak, when I think only one person is involved. The dictionary
says 'I and others: used for I by monarchs: also by editors etc.'

My letter is prompted by a useful review on urinary tract infections
in children, written by a fellow general practitioner (GP), Dr James
Larcombe. No one else was credited with the work, but I found 'we found'
thirteen times in the text. I don't think 'we' adds to authority, and it
seems there is a single author. Wouldn't 'I' do?

However, I find the use of 'we' in the consultation even more
difficult. As a GP trainer, I have sometimes queried registrars' meaning
of the word, to be told that it means partnership with the patient.
However, even an excellent male registrar realised there could be
problems, when observed saying 'shall we use a condom?' to a female

Though we are not of royal lineage, there is a long tradition of
medical paternalism, and doctors pick up the way of speaking, while
learning the technical jargon of our trade. I am pleased that I often
observe 'we' being used for true partnership between patient and doctor,
or to represent a collective opinion in an article, that is owned, not
represented by a spuriously objective passive 'it'. But isn't there more
room for an unselfish I?

Yours sincerely

Anna Eleri Livingstone

The Limehouse Practice,
Gill Street Health Centre,
London E14 8HQ

Competing interests: No competing interests

03 November 1999
Anna Eleri Livingstone