Ask LH: Can I Call Myself A Doctor When I’m Not?

Ask LH: Can I Call Myself A Doctor When I’m Not?

Hey Lifehacker, Are there any laws in Australia restricting the use of the title ‘Dr.’? Can anyone use the title even if they didn’t study medicine or earn a PhD? Thanks, Doctor Who

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Dear DW,

Do you mean as a professional title or an actual first name?

The Registry Of Births in each Australian state will not register names that are recognised as an official title or rank, which means you can’t change your first name to ‘Dr’. You can find out more about name restrictions in Australia here.

When it comes to using “Dr.” as a professional honorific, things are quite different. Under the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law Act, it is a criminal offense to use certain professional titles in a way that could induce a belief that the person is a registered health practitioner. However, the rules are surprisingly relaxed when it comes to “Dr.”.

While there are firm restrictions in place for over 20 medical titles including “nurse”, “dentist”, “osteopath” and “psychologist”, “doctor” is conspicuously absent. Apparently, the omission was made due to the ambiguity caused by non-medical academic degrees that allow the holder to use the title “Dr.” (i.e. — PhDs).

In other words, any quack with a penchant for alternative medicine can call themselves a doctor without technically breaking any laws. That said, anyone who uses the title in a professional capacity with no medical training is clearly asking for trouble. If their advice caused a medical condition to worsen, the patient could potentially sue them for negligent treatment.

Thankfully, it’s not difficult to ascertain the validity of a doctor’s medical qualifications via the internet. A good site to bookmark is the aptly named Quackwatch, which includes a database of questionable tertiary qualifications and medical services. If a doctor’s degree is on the list, they are probably best avoided.

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • Further to the above, if you deceive someone for a financial advance or to obtain any goods or services you would be committing a criminal offence against the Crimes Act as per section 82 (in Victoria anyway).

    (1) A person who by any deception dishonestly obtains for himself or another any financial advantage is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to level 5 imprisonment (10 years maximum).

    Not sure why someone would want to use the Dr except for maybe the possibility of an airline upgrade or the ‘wanker’ factor.

    • It could also be for a non-medical related industry, for instance Dr PC or Dr Nerdlove

    • Some people with PhDs are remarkably sensitive about it. They put in the years, they want the kudos to go with it.

      The real problem is that the medical profession more or less stole the title for its own use; “Doctor” has been in use as a term for a learned person since Roman times. Apparently until the late 16th century the term for a medical practitioner was “leech” – so I can understand why physicians prefer “doctor”.

      Of course, some doctors are not medical practitioners and some medical practitioners do not hold a doctorate.

      Whoever said English was complicated?

    • Plenty of creationist types like Kent Hovind do this. They get bullshit degrees from non-accredited diploma mills and call themselves ‘doctor’ to create the illusion of credibility.

  • I remember when my mum worked in the office for a student accommodation company, the manager was very keen on everyone referring to him as Dr (name). He had a PhD or whatever in History, so while it’s technically correct, it made him sound like a massive knob since it had absolutely nothing to do with being a manager…

    • He had a PhD and that’s the best job he could get? Explains the inferiority complex

      • IT was a PhD in History, i cant imagine a high demand for them outside of educating more people in history.

    • That sounds a bit knobby. In saying that, he shouldn’t ever be called “Mr Lastname”. He should either be “Firstname” or “Dr Lastname” or “Nickname”.

    • In his defence it isn’t easy getting a PhD so he was most likely proud of his achievement. Who are you decide whether someone can use a title they earned. I personally wouldn’t bother myself but I can understand the sentiments.

  • I thought you had a degree from Colombia?
    I did, now I should probably get one from America…

  • Minor correction: You have it slightly backwards – “doctor” is the title belonging to someone with a doctorate-level degree (i.e. PhD). They’re not the ones creating the ambiguity.
    Folks with medical degrees use the title, but this is a tradition rather than an entitlement. In fact surgeons, who are medical doctors with specialist training sometimes drop the doctor title and go back to Ms, Miss, Mrs or Mr again (again this is a tradition).

    • This! So annoying when people regard those with PhDs as not “real” doctors, when in fact it’s the medical “doctors” who don’t deserve the title!

    • Exactly! Doctor originally meant ‘teacher’, not a medical professional. In the US, it seems that M.Ds don’t call themselves Dr Smith, but rather Mr Smith M.D. ?

  • It works for Lindsay McDougall, so why not? He’s not just any doctor either.. he’s THE Doctor!

  • I’m working on becoming a doctor through a PhD because my first name is Shadow.

    that way I’ll be Dr Shadow & the closest most people will ever get to being a true supervillain. :p

  • Dear Crazy Weirdo,

    Why would you want to call yourself a Doctor if you had no claim to the title?

  • This reminds me of one of the problems in IT. You get a lot of job titles like Desktop Support Engineer when people doing the roles don’t have to have a degree in engineering. Other one that makes people upset is the title Architect but kinda hard to think of a better name for someone in that role because what do you call someone who designs a large system? I have heard the title designer being used instead but then they sound like someone who does marketing or product design.

  • As a medical doctor, I preferentially avoid using my title outside of the work setting (eg buying plane tickets). I would suggest that many in my generation (younger) are doing the same. My view is that it does not come with additional benefits (eg upgrades) but potential stigmatisation (eg higher costs when getting quotes, etc). Plus, when meeting people, I prefer to be judged on my character – not my title.

    Many (if not most in certain specialties) qualifying doctors are now doing PhDs as well. This may be of some consolation to academics complaining that medical doctors generations ago took their title.

  • I hold both.
    Clarify: my PhD IS my TRUE doctorate – Doctor of Philosophy.
    My MD is conferred through my (US) degree, which included a thesis.
    However going through post-grad and having done my PhD first, MD’s are really “tackons”.

    To be clear in HEALTHCARE, APHRA have very strict guidelines as to who can claim to be a doctor. Other than medicine, others MUST declare their “claim” as a post nom ie:

    Dr X, Chiropractic
    Dr Y, Denistry
    Dr M, PhD (Immunology)

    If you’re concerned about your doc, look for “F” for Fellow. In Australia, all specialists and most GP’s will have “FRA(NZ)C…..XYZ). GP is FRACGP – fellow of the royal college of general practice.

    Some such as Psychiatry and O&G will have association with NZ
    UK just is FRC….

    NOTE: SURGEONS often will DROP the “Dr” and become “Mr” out of tradition and acknowledgement that they have dropped out of Physicianship. It’s in homage to the Barber Surgeons of old, and also due to the fact that surgery violates the “do no harm” rule – surgical skill balances deliberate harm to do more good for the patient. It’s a badge of honor, and calling an old UK surgeon “Dr” as a junior doctor was a good way to earn an ass kicking.

    in Australia however:

    MD – Doctorate of Medicine – is often conferred to SPECIALISTS who have done advanced training and gone on to rec. academic merit. It’s like getting a PhD through medicine. These guys have big brains.

    MbChB is UK, MB Bch is an Oxford Grad and MB BChir is a Cambridge grad. One of my old prof’s was a MB BCh MB BChir – and oxbridge scholar meaning that they graduated from BOTH. SHE is a truly brilliant woman and I believe she’s VC somewhere…

    To those naysayers who thing that Medical Doctors are “up themselves” I only say this: getting there is SACRIFICE. Getting the marks to GET IN means no parties or beer at the beach, no getting laid in cars. For 4 or 7 years you get FLOGGED in med skool whilst your “normal” friends go off get REAL JOBS and have a LIFE. When you’re an intern and then a resident for 3 years, you’re the hospitals’ BITCH. So goodbye another 4 years. SPECIALIST? Yes, the shortest one is GP.. that’s 4 years… so 8 years GONE, surgeon? Well laddie, that’s 8 realistically.

    ADD IT UP AND THAT’S OVER A DECADE OF SACRIFICE, not getting laid, not getting drunk every weekend, not partying, not having fun. Scrounging on nothing. As for Medicare, it’s HALF of the cost of living (CPI) since the 1980’s. NO OTHER PROFESSION DOES SOMETHING SO STUPID.

    Next time you see your doctor, especially in ED, how about saying THANKS instead of being an asshole and complaining about waiting. You wait because we give the BEST we can on EVERY PATIENT, and you know, some people are in a ALOT WORSE SHAPE THAN YOU… like DEAD.

    • Hi just to clarify, dentists to DO NOT need to ‘claim’ anything after their post nom since dentistry IS a branch of medicine.

      This is not a self appointed honourary title like osteo’s, chiros or naturopaths give themselves in delusion. Melbourne University offers their DDS program and there is zero confusion that dentists are Doctors of Dental Surgery.

      The issue of semantics is ridiculous because the fact remains that (including PHD’s) ONLY those qualified in scientifically backed medicine, who perform surgery or medically invasive practices, on patients, should be allowed the doctor title to avoid public confusion and safety risks. Enough with this honourary title bs. You don’t see physios pulling such chip-on-the-shoulder antics.

      It’s absurd that you have even categorised dentist along with chiropractors. To become an oral and maxillofacial surgeon both medicine and dentistry need to be completed in whichever order. Last time I checked I don’t think an orthopedic surgeon has to complete some voodoo chiro ‘degree’ at RMIT to specialise. I suggest you check your AHPRA facts.

  • It should be noted that most physicians are NOT actually doctors. They are simply professionals in the medical field with masters degrees. The profession incorrectly waters down the prestigious title of “doctor” by applying it to individuals that do not possess a doctorate degree. Physician, Lawyer, Engineer, Architect…those are examples of professional titles. Doctor is a person that has obtained a doctorate degree, of which most physicians have not. I realize the industry standard is to incorrectly call themselves doctors, but that’s no more correct than referring to all janitors as doctors.

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