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?