Dear Pat responds to “Please Call Me Doctor”

24 Jun 2018

Dear Pat,

I am a junior general surgery resident rotating at a new hospital. No matter if I’m wearing my badge which says MD in large letters or my white coat which also says MD on it, patients and staff continue to call me by my first name. I didn’t mind at first, but then I overheard the staff tell the patient that I would be coming in to evaluate them and referenced me by my first name to the patient. I understand I am a resident, but the male residents seem to be called doctor more often. I’m not sure how to politely address this issue. Don’t I deserve to be called doctor too?


Please Call Me Doctor


For this month’s #DearPat, AWS Council Member Dr. Marie Crandall shares her strategies in response to “Please Call Me Doctor.”


Dear Please Call Me Doctor,

This can be a really frustrating and insidious issue.  On the one hand, staff may simply feel friendlier to you, hence more comfortable using your first name, which is somewhat flattering.  On the other hand, staff are generally addressed by their first names and doctors by “Dr. LastName”, which might indicate the gender disparity to which you alluded.  

I have a few suggestions:

  • Always refer to yourself as “Dr. LastName” when introducing yourself to patients, even if someone else has just introduced you as “FirstName”.  Do so with a friendly smile. Even if it feels like it’s for the 7000th time.
  • If you have any friends on the staff, maybe take them aside and ask them if they’ve noticed the fact you’re more likely to be called by your first name than male residents, and ask them for their help in changing this.  You can say straight out, “I would really appreciate it if you referred to me as ‘Dr. LastName’ to our patients; especially since I’m a woman and young, I defy the doctor stereotypes. I think it’s important to ensure that patients know and trust me as their doctor.”  This both acknowledges the important relationship that staff has with patients and enlists assistance for what can be an uncomfortable topic.
  • If you feel like any of this is intentional or that this is a pervasive institutional issue, you may want to engage administration, the GME (especially the Designated Institutional Official (DIO)), and other allies to address common themes such as implicit bias, gender discrimination, and bullying in the workplace. 
  • If none of this works or isn’t feasible for your situation, you may feel as if your only choice is to wait it out.  Fortunately, attitudes toward women physicians are gradually changing. Also fortunately, once you’ve been doing this for a while, you acquire this doctor aura that people can spot from a mile away (just like cops) and eventually even your family and friends will be calling you “Dr. LastName!”


Marie Crandall, MD, MPH

 Dr. Crandall is Director of Research and Professor of Surgery at University of Florida Jacksonville.

Dr. Crandall is originally from Detroit, MI, a product of Head Start and local public schools. She obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Neurobiology from U.C. Berkeley and attended medical school at the Charles R. Drew/U.C.L.A program in Los Angeles. She finished her General Surgery residency at Rush University & Cook County Hospital in 2001. In 2003, Dr. Crandall completed a Trauma & Surgical Critical Care Fellowship at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, WA, where she also obtained a Masters in Public Health from the University of Washington.

Dr. Crandall has been a member of AWS since residency. In 1996, surgical residencies were 20% women across the nation, so it was very encouraging to see the phenomenal achievements of other women surgeons.

She began committee service as an attending, first serving on the Academic Practice Committee (now the Clinical Practice Committee), and subsequently served as Vice Chair, then as Chair of this committee. Currently, she is in the third year of a three year term as Guest Editor for the annual American Journal of Surgery issue highlighting Association of Women Surgeons research. This has been incredibly rewarding and has led to the publication of approximately 20 member-authored articles per year in AJS. Finally, she is currently serving a 3-year term as the AWS Liaison to the American College of Surgeons Women in Surgery Committee. She remains amazed and grateful at how incredibly supportive and instrumental to her career the network of women surgeons has been.

The Association of Women Surgeons (AWS) is excited to bring to you a resident and fellow focused blog titled, “Dear Pat”. “Dear Pat” answers questions about issues pertinent to surgical residents and fellows, such as navigating through residency, applying to fellowship, family planning, and handling difficult situations on the job. Questions may be submitted by residents and fellows anonymously and will be answered by AWS council members. This monthly blog is published the fourth Sunday of each month. We want to hear from you, if you are interested in submitting your anonymous question, use this link.

Our blog is a forum for our members to speak, and as such, statements made here represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily the opinion of the Association of Women Surgeons.


2 Replies to “Dear Pat responds to “Please Call Me Doctor””

  1. While I agree with the first three strategies, my experience does not accord with the final point. Particularly for Women of Color, this issue may continue well past residency. Sometimes it is intentional and other times it reflects unconscious bias. Waiting it out may not work and ongoing strategies need to be employed such as intentional staff and physician education, being firm with patients and staff about how you prefer to be addressed, working with the diversity officer at your institution (if there is one), and developing supportive friendships that can help with reality testing, validation of your experiences, and developing creative strategies.

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