I remember when I first graduated Medical School almost 5 years ago, in true New Orleanian fashion with a Jazz Band a subsequent celebratory Second Line throughout Downtown New Orleans, and our dean, Dr. Kahn, stood on the podium and welcome myself and over 100 of my peers into the society, the profession, the calling: Doctor.
Since then, I’ve seen the ups and downs of the title and was recently reminded by the Cafeteria Chef at my small hospital in the Desert as well as a recent article in The Inquirer (Should doctors insist on being called ‘doctor’?) of the importance yet hypocritical nature of the title. As Chef Torre insisted on my first day walking through the hospital, “You worked hard and you deserve the respect. You deserved to be called Doctor.” In many ways, I can understand where the sentiment comes from. After so many years of formal education, tired sleepless years, I suppose there is some pride and prestige to the title of a Doctor. I have learned, as is pointed out in the article by The Inquirer, that introducing myself as Doctor has tons of benefits. From garnering immediate respect, a difference in reciprocal tone and attention, and getting what I want faster and with more quality than others, I can definitely understand it. If I need a referral, a consult, a prescription filled, i’m waiting in line for a while, etc. dropping the title of Doctor creates some odd sense of urgency for others. It is one of the few remaining true ‘professions’ in my opinion.
Additionally, for many of my peers that are minorities and/or women, there are deeper intersectional systemic preconceived notions and barriers that the introductory title helps to overcome. I will never forget the most brilliant Plastic Surgeon I worked with in Medical School tell me the stories of how through Residency, Fellowship and Sub-Fellowship and to this day, SHE is still ignorantly mistaken for a Nurse or a Tech, purely based on her gender. I have been lucky enough to be a Male and of a more privileged model minority (Asian) that I am rarely encountered with confusion as the Nurse – except this one time that an absolutely precious innocent child called me his Nurse not noticing gender majorities in professional roles and the best encounter with a 4 year old girl that said, “… Wait, why are you a boy doctor?” Yet, it’s not totally lost on me in the aspect of trust. I look young and my youth is certainly prey to distrust and assumptions of lack of experience and knowledge. It’s not until I open my mouth and say things like “guidelines,” “the American Academy of Pediatrics” or “current research” that I SOMETIMES can change these beliefs. But still, whether formally said or not, so many people question: Hm… Do you really know what you’re talking about?
Importantly, sometimes patients NEED to hear the word “Doctor”. They WANT to hear the word “Doctor” i’ve learned over the last several years, because some of them DO still trust US (contrary to the “I did my research [on Google from unvalidated sources]” generation), they are scared, and hearing me say, “Hi, I’m Doctor Cabrera,” can sometimes give a wave of relaxation and comfort. A majority of Pediatrics after all is reassurance, most kids will do fine if you like, you know, feed them and love them and stuff.
But, by in large, the word “Doctor” can also create a large void – this has become increasingly a problem over the last decade with the troubling increase in people that are anti-vaccinations and especially lately in the unparamounted grey zones of understanding of COVID-19. As people are turning to trust unvalidated social media outlets more and more than Doctors, I feel finding ways to show we are non-elite alike Humans and embracing our likeness is critical.
I often introduce myself as, “Doctor Trevor” to kids – often still “Doctor Cabrera” for parents for the sake of trust and comfort as above – because I don’t want them to view me too differently from them. I skate a very narrow line when talking about Medical Problems that I have in common with kids (eg: Tourette’s) but have found this revelation of vulnerability open ears and hearts to suggestions I try to make.
I try to correct every Nurse, Respiratory Therapist, Secretary and ANY other worker in the Hospital: Please just call me Trevor. Sometimes in older or smaller areas, places still practicing old habits, it’s impossible to change, but I try. My largest reason is Approachability. Medicine is not Paternalistic anymore. An unapproachable doctor will likely miss things and possibly be met with difficulty working with and running a Team – to me the role of a Doctor is as the Team Captain, emphasis on TEAM. Breaking down the barriers within care sometimes comes from within, and purposeful change and evolution comes from recognizing their causes.
So what do I do?
I always introduce myself just as my first name to anyone I work with – if i worked in any other field, I’d do the same. I’m not really that special y’all. Just because I chose to go to school forever means nothing. For patients, I modulate my introduction based on the comfort and the situation. Medicine is about Trust, and whatever I need to do to gain that authentically.
So at the end of the day, I tell people to call me whatever they want. I’m the same person either way.