Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Should surgeons change their titles?

Should surgeons change their titles?After centuries of dispute, the head of The Royal College of Surgeons has suggested that surgeons should be called ‘Dr’ rather than ‘Mr’ or ‘Miss’. Chloe Diski interviewed a GP and a surgeon to get their perspectives.

For 150 years surgeons have worked towards the coveted title of Mr or Miss. For most patients it carries no kudos at all, but for many in the industry their distinctive title represents the pinnacle of success in the medical profession.

The president of the Royal College of Surgeons has suggested that this long-standing tradition could be set to change: ‘Titles are confusing to patients; perhaps there is a good case for surgeons returning to the title of ‘doctor’ as in the rest of the world.’

The title ‘Mr’ dates back to Middle Ages when surgeons were recruited from the barber profession because of their skills at handling razors and sharp knives. At that time physicians were required to get a university degree while surgeons were only trained ‘on the job’ as apprentices. In the mid-19th century, when surgeons started getting degrees, their former title was retained. As they moved up the medical hierarchy, it began to be worn with a new sense of pride.

Kirsten, a GP in East London, thinks that the title is part of the traditional old-school way of doing things: ‘I trained in Edinburgh and it was really hierarchical. The doctors would always be dressed in suits and you would always refer to the surgeon as Mr so and so. I wouldn’t even approach anyone of a different rank, especially not a surgeon.’

She hopes that the change will relax the rigid hierarchy at some of the more traditional hospitals, but also sees some benefit in making a distinction between the different medical professions: ‘Surgeons spend a huge proportion of their time in the theatre, chopping people up. As a GP I spend my time talking to people. It needs different skills, and it’s a completely different job, so perhaps the different titles work quite well.’

If this idea is approved by the council, how will surgeons take to this change? Jake Patterson, a research registrar in urology, thinks that a few surgeons will be put out, but that most won’t be affected by it: ‘Some surgeons would have done the exams to be a Mr, but I think it’s much less of an issue for people who have trained in the last five or ten years. I introduce myself as Dr Patterson to most patients anyway and most doctors will call me Jake. Every one works together these days because if you alienate yourself then you end up making life harder for yourself. At the end of the day you are identified by the work you do, not by your title.’

Related links