So You Want a Doctorate in Psychology

Dear Inadequate Graduate,

I graduated last year and about half way through my postdoc. While I enjoy the work and my patients, I have this chronic annoyance with not being referred to as Doctor. I graduated, working hard for my degree, and although I introduce myself as Dr……, many staff still refer to me by my first name which I think influences patients to do the same. I’ve noticed, however, that MDs are never called by their first name, and the fact that psychologist aren’t given the same consideration feels dismissive and invalidating for what it took to get to where I am. To further complicate matters, none of the other psychologists here go by ‘doctor’ (I don’t know why) so I feel that if I insist or continue to introduce myself as such I’m being elitist. I’m loath to be thought of as self-righteous and I understand how going by a first-name basis allows for a more personal dynamic, but I’m not comfortable with patients calling me by my first name or being too familiar with me. I want to be recognized by the title I earned. Is that so wrong?


Dear DrGraduate,

This question is timely as I’ve recently come across others expressing similar concerns. It has become a tradition in healthcare settings, particularly integrated ones, where psychologists will not use their title as MDs will. Some believe has to do with the field’s divergence from the medical model while others prefer to foster a non-hierarchical relationship, or seem more approachable by using one’s first name. Whatever one chooses, I believe it is important to go by what you feel comfortable, whether it would be by your title, or not.

It sounds like if you were to do so, however, you might stick out as the only behavioral health provider to do so at your place of work Have you spoken to the team/staff about being referred to as doctor, as your degree indicates? Perhaps they were following a pattern set by your predecessors and had no idea or intention of invalidating you. It is not wrong to want to be called doctor or recognized for your hard work, although perhaps a conversation is necessary if your views differ from those of your colleagues. It is likely that patients, or others for that matter, don’t mean any harm in referring to you by first-name if that’s what they hear in the office, and sometimes might be confused by our tittle. I’ve had patients insist that I’m not a doctor because I can’t prescribe medication, as well as take comfort in calling me ‘doctor’ and knowing I’ve had extensive training. The important thing to remember is that you are not alone, or wrong, in this frustration and opening up a dialogue with others your colleagues is an important step to addressing this in a healthy manner and know that whatever you choose,

You. Are. Enough.


The Inadequate Graduate


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