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Use of medical titles by non-doctors can mislead patients

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: (Published 20 July 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d4241

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Not just a UK issue, and may be confusing for more than individuals

This commentary is a helpful reflection on an important issue, and is
neither an appeal to medical supremacism nor dismissiveness to those with
hard-earned PhDs, but rather a call for due clarity of academic
background and professional training when dealing with potentially
vulnerable individuals and the public.

This came to public attention in the last year in Ireland when
discussion arose following ethical statements from a member of a hospital
foundation with a PhD in history who described himself with the prefix
'Dr' but no overt clarification that this was a PhD in history, albeit
with an interest in healthcare ethics (1, 2).

Ethical debate is the richer for having a mix of non-clinician and
clinician ethicists (3), but it is clearly preferable that one's
background is transparently transmitted to wider audiences, and in
particular the general public: the use of the prefix 'Dr' in such settings
should be followed a clear specification of degrees and qualifications.


1) O'Neill D. Role of ethics committees. Irish Times, 24 December

2) O'Ferrall F. Roles of ethics committees. Irish Times, 29 December 2010.

3) Russell C, O'Neill D. Ethicists and clinicans: the case for
collaboration in the teaching of medical ethics. Ir Med J. 2006;99:25-7.

Competing interests: No competing interests

27 July 2011
Desmond O'Neill
Consultant Physician
Adelaide and Meath Hospital, Dublin 24, Ireland