Thursday, June 1, 2023

Should I use my professional title outside of work?

Using your Dr title outside of work can have benefits and disadvantages, Abi Rimmer hears

Be mindful of professional obligations

Kathryn Leask, Medical Defence Union medicolegal adviser, says, “You’ve worked hard to earn your title so it’s understandable that you’d want to use it outside work.

“It’s important, however, to be mindful of your professional obligations when using your title for activities outside your usual role. Whether these require General Medical Council registration or not, the public will have certain expectations of you as a doctor. The GMC expects registered medical practitioners to be honest about their experience, qualifications, and current role.

“If, for example, you’re giving wellbeing advice on social media using your title, you need to be clear about your credentials and what experience you have. Even where you aren’t giving medical advice, your words are likely to have added credibility.

“Similarly, if the call goes out for a doctor to act as a good Samaritan in an off-duty emergency, it’s important to make clear the limits of your experience or competence. Being a doctor might not make you the best person to help under the circumstances. Be sensitive to this so as not to deter other healthcare professionals from coming forward, who might be better placed to help.

“If you’re no longer a registered medical practitioner, it is an offence to give the impression that you are. For example, using the title Dr in a situation where your medical expertise or skill is called upon.

“Above all, it’s important to be honest about your credentials and to ensure you have the necessary indemnity in place for what you are doing.”

Are you using it for social capital?

Tharusha Gunawardena, cardiology registrar in the east of England, says, “When I graduated from medical school, changing my title was something I couldn’t do enough. My bank account, driving licence, and even my Tesco Clubcard were changed.

“Back then I felt motivated by pride but now I wonder if I also felt there was some social capital that came with the title. Now I feel weird when I get letters for things that don’t relate to my work, like my car insurance, that address me as ‘Dr,’ because what is the point?

“I am still proud to be a doctor. It’s a hard achievement and a difficult but rewarding career, but I’m wary that people, especially in the UK, are not fond of what they perceive as boastfulness.

“Mentioning my professional title also often invites well meaning but tired tropes and questions, and it can be a distraction. I remember once when I was buying a car the salesman asked me what I did. After I told him, everything was related back to my career and comments about how at some point I would earn ‘big bucks.’ It was annoying.

“As I get older I’ve gained other titles and responsibilities, like husband and father, so being known as ‘doctor’ matters to me less and less. It’s easier to say, ‘I’m Tharusha and I work in a hospital.’ I know, it’s still a humble brag.”

You get to choose how you define yourself

Beth Kane, haematology consultant, says, “My mother raised me a feminist. Alongside my Ready Brek I was fed the principles of equity and the problems of the patriarchy. My gender did not define me, and yet after getting married before the end of medical school, not only did my title define my gender, it also now defined my relationship status.

“’Ms’ was not in common usage, and so after graduation I set aside imposter syndrome and settled on ‘Dr.’ Using a professional title protected my private side from others.

“For a long time, particularly during training, being a doctor consumed my very being, my entire life. Working, commuting, studying, recovering from work, attempting to sleep—that was it. If you’d broken me like a stick of rock all you would have found printed inside was ‘doctor.’

“Life is better now. I have worked hard to achieve that elusive balance, and sometimes I even get it right. I’m more than just ‘doctor,’ like I’m more than just ‘wife.’ I still use the title Dr—it’s mine, I’ve worked hard to get it and to keep it and I like it. Sometimes I am Ms though, and it’s nice to be just me.

“Whether you’ve been a doctor for a few weeks or a few decades, use it, don’t use it, the title is yours to do with what you wish. Mortgage application? Yes. Plane tickets? Absolutely not. Play around. Find what works. Nobody else has the right to define you. You get to choose that for yourself.”

You title signifies your adherence to a code of conduct

Indranil Chakravorty, consultant physician and director of medical education, St George’s University Hospital London, says, “You’ve worked hard to earn your title, it signifies that you have the knowledge and expertise required to help your patients with their health needs.

“In addition, a medical title represents an adherence to a code of conduct: integrity and professionalism in everything you do. There are, however, advantages and disadvantages to using your title outside of work.

“One of the advantages is that it can lend credibility to your opinion. Your friends and family may be more likely to trust your medical advice and recommendations if you have a medical title.

“In some cases, however, it may be against regulations or even illegal to use your medical title.

“Using your title may also create liability for you in case something goes wrong with your advice or recommendations. Even if you do not use your title, the fact that you are a medical professional is always considered when you run into any kind of trouble, break the law, or for any social misdemeanours.

“We need to remember that the title comes with a commitment to the principles of truth, honesty, integrity, and empathy.

“This commitment starts when you join a medical school and is for life. Perhaps, society needs to consider providing more economic value to this high commitment it demands from its professionals.”

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