You’re a pharmacist, not a physician: Get your own title

June 8, 2016

Physicians have been called "Doc" for so long that the terms are essentially identical. Why not designate pharmacists by a separate and distinct title?

David StanleyA friend of mine who works as a pharmacy technician told me a story a while back that made me chuckle. A customer came up to the counter and asked the pharmacist to take a look at some blister-like thing that was growing on the end of his finger. It bled a lot at the slightest touch, he said, and he wanted to know what he should do about it.

The pharmacist advised the man to check with a doctor. "Well, isn't that what I'm doing?" the confused customer asked. "It says doctor right on your name tag."

The entire pharmacy staff had to suppress their laughter, because this pharmacist was one who took his PharmD very seriously, to the point of insisting that "Doctor" take the place of "Mister" whenever his name came up. 

See also: What's in a name?

We've probably all run into one of "those" pharmacists at some point, and this column is for them. To those pharmacists I say this: You're not a doctor, and please stop calling yourself one.

Physician vs. doctor

Now I fully understand that you have a Doctor of Pharmacy degree, which gives you the title of "doctor" in the world of academia, the same title as for those who have earned PhDs in English, anthropology, political science, or any of the hundreds of other fields of study offered on college campuses.

 

But you need to understand that to the layperson in a healthcare setting, the word "doctor" is synonymous with "physician," a person whose job it is to diagnose and treat disease. You may technically be just as entitled to call yourself a doctor as that anthropology PhD, but let's face it, you don't see many Doctors of Anthropology in lab coats, walking up and down the halls of hospitals, do you?

See also: What's in a name, Part 2

When you wear that white coat while declaring to the world that you are a "doctor," you'll accomplish nothing beyond sowing confusion in the minds of your patients, an ironic move for a profession that claims to be built on a foundation of clear communication.

It would be more appropriate for people who need medical advice — like that man with the growth on his finger — to consult with a physician assistant or nurse practitioner than with the type of "doctor" that man thought he had found at the back of his big-box department store. 

Specialized nomenclature

On the other hand, if an individual, including a physician, needs detailed information about pharmaceuticals, there is no person more qualified to talk to than a pharmacist. And let us not forget that pharmacists are more knowledgeable and capable of doing many more things than they were a generation ago.

So how do we communicate that without trying to hijack the prestige earned by members of another profession? The answer lies in nomenclature that recognizes not what we've accomplished in the past, but what we can do in the present.

One idea would be to take a cue from the NPI numbering system, which has different taxonomies for "Pharmacist" and "Pharmacist Clinician." A conversation along the lines of "Are you a Pharmacist Clinician? Great. I'd like to talk to you about getting a birth-control prescription," would be far more appropriate at a pharmacy counter than "Do you know what this thing on my finger is?"

Similarly, "I'm going to consult with a Pharmacist Clinician" would give a patient a clearer understanding of what is about to happen than if a physician says, "I'm going to ask Dr. Smith," even if it does give Dr. Smith one less chance to inflate his ego.

 

Whatever the solution, I say it has to build up recognition of what our profession has accomplished, rather than to try, intentionally or not, to confuse our work with that of another category of professional. There are probably many ways to do this, and I look forward to hearing any thoughts you might have.

Just don't sign your letter "Doctor." Unless you can tell me what that man might have had on his finger.