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"What's Up Doc"

February 2003

"Everybody Knows"

a REAL doctor:
  ...delivers babies
  ...checks your credit, then your pulse
  ...is usually on the fairway

I finished High School: they congratulated me
I got my BSc: they congratulated me
I got my MSc: they congratulated me
I got my PhD... they said "but you're not a REAL doctor"

If you want a reason not to bother getting a PhD, that would be it. You'll spend your life avoiding mention of your academic record for fear of being treated like some wannabe who couldn't get into medical school. When my son was born the labor was so short that we gave didn't even get out of the house. There was nobody but Jacquie and me. So people would give a wink and say "now you're a REAL doctor". Is that really all it takes to be a REAL doctor? When I point out that we wouldn't be here if Neanderthals hadn't been able to deliver babies... people look at me funny.

Of course, there is validity to this cynicism about doctor wannabes. With all the mail order "doctors" filling up the talk show circuit its no wonder people want to get back to the original meaning of the word. Or do they? It seems most people don't know the original meaning. But then, why argue etymology with people when most of them don't know or care what etymology means?

Here's a challenge, check out: every occurence of "doctor" in the King James Version to see how the word was used a few centuries ago. Funny, this had nothing to do with medicine. Rather a "doctor" was a master of "doctrine". However, if you check every occurence of "physician" in the King James Version... Hmmm, in those days a medical professional was a "physician" and a "doctor" was somebody who knew religious "documents" well enough to teach "doctrine". If you think I'm stretching it, its easy to go to your favorite search engine and search for "doctor etymology". Here's an example of what you'll find.

It Turns Out

a REAL doctor:
  ...recites from Habakkuk by from memory
  ...knows what "hermeneutics" means
  ...cares what "hermeneutics" means

So where do we PhD's fit in? Somewhere in the middle. As Universities branched out into other subjects they would bestow the same degree/title on people who achieved the highest degree level in a subject. Hence, Doctor of Philosophy, even if you've never taken a Philosophy class.

Somewhere along the line physicians decided they should all be doctors and slowly convinced everybody else of the same. Only a specialist would qualify under the classic meaning, so the "MD" degree was born - roughly equivalent to a Masters in any other field. It was a brilliant marketing ploy for their profession, but they should be the last group to take offense at the proliferation of "doctor" titles among people wanting to gain credibility in the same way they did.

Do I call myself "doctor"? Put it this way - when I'm happy I don't tell people I'm "feeling gay". No matter what the original meaning of a word is its more hassle than its worth to try using words differently than other people around you. However, when I'm told I'm not a REAL doctor its difficult to avoid the temptation to say something like "at least I'm closer to being a REAL doctor than most physicians".

Don't get me wrong, I do respect physicians. As I already said they've earned a degree roughly equivalent to a Master's - no small feat. Furthermore, even a non-specialist has put in a lot of long hard and stress filled hours after graduation. Finally, there's the matter of my next prostate exam -- best not to create any hard feelings before that!

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