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Name Calling

A few years ago, I was working very closely with a physician to figure out what was going on with the critically ill patient we’d just admitted. I was in near constant contact with him for hours as we drew labs, got results, added meds, etc. When things started to settle down, I said, “Thanks for being so available, Dr. S” to which he replied, “You’re welcome. And call me Bill.”

That was the first time in my entire career (~7 years by that point) that a doc had “invited” me to use his first name. It felt strange! I tried it out a few times over the next few months and it really took awhile to feel comfortable with it.

But then I got to thinking. Why don’t we call doctors by their first names? Is it a sign of respect to say “Dr. Jones” instead of “Fred?” Or is it a throwback to the era when nurses used to scramble to give up our seats when a physician walked onto the unit? These days, nurses work more closely with physicians than ever. We call ourselves the “healthcare team.” Do teammates have to address other members with a title?

I have never again been asked to use a doctor’s first name. With some (mostly women), I spontaneously said their first names one day and since they didn’t seem to mind, I kept with it. Lots of nurses who have been on the unit for decades working with the same doctors use first names. But I don’t know if they were asked to, or if they simply started one day and never stopped.

It still feels weird, though. I would always try to call the doc “Dr. S” in front of a patient or family member. But why is that? Clearly doctors have had way more training, years of school, internships and residencies than nurses. (Adding 8/30: Also some rough working conditions, too) But I don’t expect the people with less education than I (CNA’s, students, etc) to call me “Nurse Geena.” Eh – saying that sounds silly, like it’s not a fair comparison. It isn’t, I suppose, but I cannot think of a better one off the top of my head.

I’ve started a poll at Nursing Voices. So if you’re a nurse, head on over and let us know what you do. And I’d truly love to hear what the docs have to say about this topic. Feel free to leave a comment… Would you be surprised/offended if a nurse called you by your first name without being asked to? What if you’d only been working with him/her for a few weeks? Or a few years?

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I was a horticulturist for the city of Denver up until this last April, and there were some kissbutts that allways called our field supervisor “boss”instead of his name. It drove me CRAZY. I’m glad some doctors like to be called by their first name. You are all members of the same team, as you said.

I work at a teaching hospital with brand new shiney interns…It is really hard to call then Dr. So and So, when, more often then not, I am dictating the orders they write! The older attendings, though, I can’t see myself calling them by their first names…I don’t know if its an age thing or, the whole Dr nurse thing of by gone years…..

I’m only a med student, but I’d just rather be called by my first name all the time. I’m not into formality. We’re all people, just have different roles.

Hello!!! Congratulations for your incredible blog. I am physician, and i work in a medium size public hospital located in a countryside area, in Spain, and in it, we use to use our first names at work.

In the ED we are pretty informal, and in the nurses’ station, it is usually first names for a lot of the docs for most people. I am just one of those that tend to use the title out of courtesy. Of course, I usually answer “yes, sir” or “Yes, ma’am”, too… Maybe I’m the weird one?

I’m an ER doc. The vast majority of nurses I work with call me by my first name when we are not in front of patients. In front of patients, they refer to me as Dr. B. The nurses have only their first names on their badges for privacy (from the patients). I don’t know most of their last names. There are three nurses in the department with the same first name as me…it has gotten confusing in codes when there is more than one of us in the room….I finally figured out that they were calling out to each other, not me. They just won’t call me by first name in front of patients. I don’t care if they call me by first name. I consider many of them friends. The few that will only call me Dr. B are of all age ranges and backgrounds, so I can’t blame it on them being of the old-school.

I refer to all my patients over the age of 17 as Mr, Mrs, Ms, or Miss Lastname as a sign of respect.

When I first meet with a doctor, if he calls me by my first name then I call him by his. If for some reason I don’t know his first name I ask for it. I have tremendous respect for doctors (and nurses) and also for myself.

Yeah, it feels weird to not use “Dr.”

Oh, and I also congratulate you for your incredible blog!

I always ask a physician first if it is ok if I call them by their first name. I never assume it is ok. I will never call a doctor by his first name in front of a patient. I work with a physician and we all call him “DOC”. However the other physcian I work with we call Dr. W. I don’t see a problem with either as long as there is a mutual respect between all members of the health care team.

I work in the Billing Dept of a multi specialty group practice, and I am also a patient of one of our GI doctors. Even with this dual role at my clinic, I would feel presumptuous calling one of our doctors by their first name. Some of the nurses call their doctors by given name, but it is pretty rare.

All the nurses on my ward call the doctors by there first names I think it takes away that formal inpersonal aspect that use to be the great devide between Drs and nurses. I think it’s a positive sign of the times!

Very good read. it is definitely a throwback to the classes within the work place. You can relate what you have written to nearly every workplace situation where your boss will be referred to as Mr or Mrs. Perhaps it is a sense of status or of power that keeps this going.

i call all doctors by their first name, they are no different to us!!! when one comes !!!!

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  • profileI am Gina. I have been a nurse for 15 years, first in med/surg, then CVICU, inpatient dialysis, CCU and now hospice. This blog is about my experiences as a nurse, and the experiences of others in the healthcare system - patients, nurses, doctors, paramedics. We all have stories!

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