Don't diss the title. Others will take you at your word.
Kelly HowardIt was late one evening as I pushed my shopping cart through the frozen food aisle of my local grocery store. I was turning my cart toward the dairy section when an employee I didn’t recognize stopped me. “Are you a doctor?” he asked. Seeing my conflicted expression, he added, “You work at the hospital, right?”
“Uh, which hospital?” I finally managed to respond.
“Someone told me you’re a doctor at the hospital,” he said insistently.
This question never fails to spark a noisy debate inside my brain. This is the question that I - and, I imagine, most pharmacists holding a PharmD degree - hate to have to answer, because there really is no good answer.
As pharmacists we are a modest bunch. We generally don’t require our colleagues or patients to address us as “Doctor,” and most of us prefer just to be on a first-name basis with other the healthcare professionals.
I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I have corrected someone who addressed me as “Mrs.” or “Ms.” One of those occasions, I’m ashamed to admit, was an attempt to get out of a speeding ticket, but the others were legitimate efforts to gain traction and respect in hostile interactions with physicians. Even in those instances, I left the conversation feeling as if I had just pulled a stunt or somehow had overstepped the bounds of propriety.
I finally responded to the employee with “I’m a doctor of pharmacy. I’m a pharmacist.” On the man’s face was a fleeting trace of disappointment or skepticism, or both, that impelled me to add, “Yeah, I’m not a real doctor, I just play one at work.” And then I groaned internally.
Why do I do this to myself? My profession? Why do I feel the need to be belligerently modest when all it does is belittle a profession of which I’m so proud to be a part? When the man responded, “Oh, so you’re a fake doctor!” as he walked away, I felt as if I had taken a bullet.
As I drove home with a car full of groceries and sadness, I was reminded of a quote from the movie “Mean Girls.” Tina Fey plays a teacher who tells the girls of the school, gathered at an assembly, that they have to stop calling each other terrible names, because that just makes it okay for boys to call them the same terrible names.
I realize this might seem like a bit of a stretch, but there’s a definite parallel here. I, as a pharmacist, have to stop making jokes about my profession and deprecating our intelligence, because that gives other people, namely patients and other healthcare professionals, permission to feel as if they can make jokes about my profession. I can’t jokingly disrespect myself if its respect I’m hoping to gain, and I can’t say I’m not a “real doctor” if I want people treat me, ultimately, as they would a doctor.
Holding my head high and confirming that yes, I am in fact, a doctor, a real one, with seven years of college and a fancy degree, does not make me a braggart or an imposter. It certainly doesn’t indicate that I think I’m somehow more intelligent or more qualified than my BS Pharm brethren. And it definitely doesn’t mean that I think I can park in the “Doctors Only” parking lot or hang out in the “Doctor’s Lounge” at the hospital where I work.
It simply reminds me to be proud that I am part of a profession that focuses on patient care - a focus that has always been more important than titles and credentials.
Kelly Howard is a freelance pharmacist living and working in Southeastern N.C. She would love to hear any pharmacist jokes you plan to retire after reading this article. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org at www.thefreelancepharmacist.com.