What do you think about a recent trend noting a growing number of patients calling physicians by their first names?

Urology Times Journal, Vol 51 No 01, Volume 51, Issue 01

SAP Partner | <b>Vanderbilt University Medical Center</b>

"In the office, absolutely, I should be called by my profession," says one urologist.

“I’ve seen an actual uptick in that. Three years ago, working in southern Kentucky, virtually no one called me by my first name. I have more patients here in northern Montana attempting to call me by my first name. Usually, they get my first name wrong because it’s 2 names put together. So I direct them back to calling me Dr Martin in a professional setting.

I do that different ways. If they call me Sara, I tell them that’s not my name—just call me Dr Martin. Others say, ‘It’s nice to meet you, Sarabeth.’ I tell them I like to be called Dr Martin in the office. No one seems to get offended, and they call me Dr Martin when asked.

Honestly, I find the trend disrespectful, but that’s just how I was raised. I still call my patients Mr and Mrs, but I grew up in the South and that’s what I was taught.

I’m seeing an older population as well. They think I’m younger than I am, so I tell them, ‘Thank you, I’ll take that as a compliment.’ As for my younger patients, they may prefer first names because it makes them feel more connected. But I direct them to call me Dr Martin in the clinic or hospital. I haven’t had a patient complain. It’s really all about the delivery.

I have male partners who don’t mind being called by their first name, but as a female, I still want to be called Dr Martin. I worked hard for that title. It is a professional setting, so that’s how I want to be addressed.”

Sarabeth Martin, MD

Kalispell, Montana

“I’m seeing more people calling me by my first name, but I’m not usually offended unless I feel it’s a sign of disrespect. Usually, it isn’t.

If an older person calls me by my first name, I’m not offended because I don’t take it as a sign of disrespect. If a younger person does It, maybe I would be offended because that can be a sign of disrespect. But really, it’s not a big increase. I can only remember maybe once or twice when I had to tell the patient, ‘Please call me Doctor.’

If somebody calls me Eddie, I usually just ignore it because it doesn’t play a role in my care for them. I’m a urologist. I’m here to help them. If they feel they need to call me by my first name, that’s fine. It doesn’t play any role in the care I provide.

If I introduce myself as Dr Zoltan and the patient then calls me by my first name, that’s disrespectful. If the patient asks, ‘Do you mind if I call you by your first name?’ I would say yes, I mind. In the office, absolutely, I should be called by my profession.

Over the past few years, there’s been a trend toward less respect for all professions. I don’t find it triggering for me. It doesn't take away my license and it doesn’t take away my skill. If it’s not disrespectful, I’m OK with it.”

Edward Zoltan, MD, FACS

Brooklyn, New York

“I’m called many things, probably most often referred to as Dr Scarpato, but sometimes Dr Kristen, Kristen, or Doc. I can’t necessarily say I'm being called Kristen with increased regularity, but I guess in fairness I commonly introduce myself as Kristen Scarpato, so maybe patients see that as an invitation to use my first name. Even so, most patients call me Doctor.

If I noticed a big change and felt like many patients were calling me Kristen, I would say I might start introducing myself more as Dr Scarpato.

I don’t mind if patients call me Kristen. There are many ways to demonstrate respect for each other and as long as there’s mutual respect between the patient and the physician, I’m not necessarily bothered.

That said, it’s problematic if I notice a patient calling me Kristen and called my male colleague exclusively Doctor. Then I would have a problem. If this trend differentially impacts 1 group, that might be reflective of a deeper issue and of a bias, and that would bother me. Because as a woman, I’m more often mistaken for the nonphysician member of the team than my male colleagues. That’s frustrating and disappointing.

So although I say I’m Kristen Scarpato, I also say, ‘I am a urologist’ or ‘I am the urologic oncologist who’s going to be caring for you.’ I do make it clear that I am a physician as part of that.”

Kristen Scarpato, MD, MPH

Nashville, Tennessee