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.


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