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Toni Talks about PT Today

The Doctor Debate

Published January 20, 2010 9:18 AM by Toni Patt
Graduation is only a few weeks away.  Soon I'll have a brand new DPT to put behind my name.  The closer it gets, the more people ask me if they have to call me doctor.  I find that an interesting question.  The DPT is a doctorate level degree.  Therefore the title doctor is appropriate.  No one disputes that.  Everyone agrees I will have a doctorate degree.  At the same time none of those people believe I should be referred to as a doctor.

Obviously a DPT is not the same as a medical degree.  Individuals with PhDs are also traditionally referred as doctors although those who teach sometimes limit it to the educational setting.  Pharm Ds are doctors of pharmacology.  I don't think I've ever heard one referred to as Dr. So-and-So, but they are nonetheless recognized as having doctorate degrees.  Using this logic, a doctorate degree entitles the person to be called doctor.

I've been told I'm not really a doctor.  The DPT is only an entry-level degree.  Those statements were made by a fellow PT and are inaccurate.  A bachelor's degree is entry level.  A doctorate degree, in any field, is considered advanced training.  A PhD in psychology isn't considered an entry-level degree, nor is a doctorate in nursing.  He later amended his statement that I actually would be a doctor because mine was a transitional degree and therefore not entry level. 

Everyone in my department has already assumed I won't expect to be called doctor.  One said it would confuse the physicians.  Another said it would sound like I have a PhD.  No one thinks I should be referred to as a doctor in departmental meetings, correspondence or in reference with patients.  I can have DPT on my badge and that's about it. 

Even though I don't agree with that logic, I understand the point.  I would be the only DPT on staff.  Calling me doctor would be confusing.  The hospital culture is for everyone but medical staff to use first names with patients.  Besides, I doubt if I would answer to Dr. Patt if someone called me that.  I know it would take a few repetitions before I'd realize someone was talking to me.

The problem is perception.  The perception of the DPT is that it is the same thing as a PT or MSPT, only with more years of schooling.   We've pushed and pushed to have a doctorate degree but done nothing to illustrate what it means to the medical community.  I understand some parts of the country are better about this than others and I suspect Texas is behind the curve.  The APTA needs to take note.  No one is going to call us doctor or recognize us as a doctoring professional until the perception of what the DPT is changes.  If I insist, I will be called doctor.  That I would have to insist defeats the purpose. 

Personally I don't care.  I don't need another title.  But I do care about the profession.  It may take several years until the DPT practitioners outnumber the PT and MSPT practitioners for anything to change.  If everyone has the title and insists on being called by the title things will change.  This is something that has to come from everyone.  I think we're going to need to have many more practicing DPTs before we can expect to be called doctor automatically.

6 comments

The difference is we diagnose and treat. This is in the same context as a chiropractor/optometrist/audiologist, etc.., to my knowledge pharm D's do not diagnose. You may want to review brand beat and move forward by the APTA.

Chris Huravitch May 28, 2010 11:58 AM

"Pharm Ds are doctors of pharmacology. I don't think I've ever heard one referred to as Dr. So-and-So, but they are nonetheless recognized as having doctorate degrees. Using this logic, a doctorate degree entitles the person to be called doctor." The obvious flaw in your logic is the reason no one should call you a doctor. How exactly does the fact that other non-physician doctorate degree recipients DO NOT go by "Doctor" lead to the conclusion that you SHOULD go by "Doctor."

Guest Guest May 7, 2010 10:50 PM

In regards to achieving Vision 2020 of the APTA, it is not much of an argument. We are progressing to a "doctoring profession" and wether right or wrong, the Dr. title makes a significant difference in how the public and 3rd party payers view/may view us. If we don't start changes now, when will they start? As Toni stated, it is going to take a group effort!

Chris February 2, 2010 12:02 AM

Christie articulated very nicely what I was thinking as I read this post.  This really does boil down to a cultural issue.  As therapists, cultural sensitivity is something we are told to cultivate for the sake of our patients, that it will improve our ability to serve our clients.  Will being called "Dr." serve our clients better?  Or will that term confuse the majority of patients because of the meaning our culture has ascribed to the title "Dr."?

Janey Goude January 21, 2010 10:59 PM

...on more thing...people were asking my husband, who was working on his MBA as I was finishing my tDPT, "Are you going to call your wife 'doctor' when she is finished?" He replied "Yes, but she'll have to call me 'Master'".  

Puts it into perspective, doesn't it?

Christie ,, January 21, 2010 9:21 AM

I always love this argument. Should we be called doctor?  Personally, I'm with you, I didn't do this for a "title," I did this for personal and professional growth.  

The issue comes in because we are bound by our cultural norms.  In our culture, it has been normal to call a physician a "doctor." However, the term actually comes from the Latin phrase "to teach."  In most of the developed world, doctors and not called "doctors" but "physicians." Yet the people who really should be called doctor are called professors.  In our culture, we've come to apply an inappropriate meaning to the title.  

Therefore, it's become a cultural norm and not a "right" to use the term doctor by applying it to physicians and professors.  We could certainly try to buck the trend, but I see no point...definitions change over time any way. Pretty soon, the term physical therapist will be synonymous with someone who's completed a doctoral education anyway.  We were just born too early.    

Christie ,, January 21, 2010 9:19 AM

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