Article Date: 8/1/2008

Is There a Doctor in The House? Don't Answer Just Yet.
o.d. to o.d.

Is There a Doctor in The House? Don't Answer Just Yet.

The AMA recently considered a resolution that would limit the use of the title "doctor."

BY WALTER D. WEST, O.D., F.A.A.O.
Chief Optometric Editor

The American Medical Association (AMA) recently considered a policy resolution that advocated for legislation to limit the use of the titles "doctor," "resident" and "residency" to physicians, podiatrists and dentists, or individuals who are in training for those professions. Ultimately, the AMA settled on language that advocates for legislation requiring healthcare professionals to "clearly and accurately identify to patients their qualifications and degree(s)" and makes it a felony to "misrepresent one's self as a physician."

There they go

Well, they're at it again. "Organized Medicine" (perhaps an oxymoron) is putting forth a significant effort to save the public from anyone other than the M.D. who uses the title of "doctor," "resident" and "residency," or so they say. That's right folks, they want to make it a felony to "misrepresent one's self as a physician."

All this seemed so bizarre to me that I just had to explore the efforts of the AMA a bit further. The AMA's position seemed so backward, even archaic, that I felt the best place to search for answers would be in the past.

Going back to the Latin, doctor (gen.: doctoris) means teacher. The word is originally an agentive noun of the verb docēre (‘teach’). The use of the title "doctor" has been common in Europe as a title to honor the highest level of academic accomplishment in a given field of study for more than a millennium.

In an effort to assist the AMA in any future communication with me, my name is Walter West, I am an optometrist. You can call me doctor.

The bottom line for me is this: To refer to someone as doctor is to show respect for their level of accomplishment in a particular field of study, not to show respect for only those whose field of study happens to be medicine. Certainly, I respect the level of accomplishment of those who are M.D.s. But, I also have a great deal of respect for anyone in any field of study who has achieved the highest level of education in their field.

The unnoticed M.D.?

So why is the AMA bothering with all this? I think it's because too many healthcare providers are teaching patients and providing care that in doing so, they're making a living that the AMA feels threatens the livelihood of M.D.s., as they're going unnoticed. The healthcare consumer is beginning to seek care, healing and education from practitioners other than M.D.s at an ever-increasing rate. Think about it. Optometrists perform some 70% of all initial eyecare visits, according to the American Optometric Association. Nurse practitioners are now commonly found in pharmacies, discount stores and within other healthcare practices doing a lot of what had always been the territory of M.D.s. The other part of this is that in many instances, the consumers of health care see the "non-M.D." practitioners as a better alternative. Maybe this is because of location, convenience, price or more individual attention than they received from an M.D.

Misrepresentation gone awry

For one to represent himself as a doctor when he's not isn't right, nor is the AMA's attempt to strip the title from those who are.

In an effort to assist the AMA in any future communication with me, my name is Walter West, I am an optometrist. You can call me doctor. OM



Optometric Management, Issue: August 2008