The proliferation of professional doctorates has reinvigorated debate over the use of the doctoral honorific. Doctorate holders are often addressed as “doctor” in academic contexts, but idiomatic American English associates “doctor” with physicians—licensed clinicians with doctoral degrees in medicine. The possibility of patient confusion has historically justified proscription of the doctoral honorific by others, including nurses, but recently such proscriptions have been withdrawn. An examination of history, language, and ethical reasoning leads us to conclude that, in the context of patient interaction, clinicians should eschew the doctoral honorific entirely. We think it appropriate for professionals to rely on training-pathway titles as part of their professional duty to inform. In particular, we argue that licensed clinicians with doctoral degrees in medicine should embrace the title of “physician.”



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