What’s up Doc?

Mid-conversation yesterday, my cab driver mentioned to me that it takes 4 years to become qualified to drive a London cab. 

He then pointed out, “Three more years, and I could have been a doctor!”

Medicine Australia

I have been in and out of doctor’s offices lately, and I often find myself tongue-tied when visiting a physician in the UK.   I never know how to address people in the medical profession because the simple label, “Doctor”, does not always apply.

Case in point, when I recently had a small surgical procedure, my physician was addressed as Mister.  Somehow, this made me feel like I was seeing an imposter.  I just had a hard time taking him seriously when he was referred to as Mr. so-and-so as if he worked at a local bank.  My regular physician is indeed referred to as the more familiar, Doctor.  In the UK, different titles distinguish between physicians and surgeons.  Oddly enough, it is a surgeon with credentials to perform operations who is referred to as a lowly Mister and the ordinary physician who receives the title of lofty Doctor.

The orthodontist profession uses the traditional Doctor title.  Though the often appalling appearance of English teeth does not necessarily conjure faith in this profession within the UK, I have found our orthodontist to be truly remarkable.  Upon our first visit, he noted two fundamental things that have affected Jackie’s bite and tongue thrust for years:

  1. She cannot adequately breathe through her nose.  Our orthodontist turned to Jackie and asked point blank, “Close your mouth.  Can you breathe through your nose?” Her matter of fact response, “No.  I never have been able to.”  I sat dumbfounded and thought to myself, “WHAT?!  Really?!
  2. Her tongue cannot move properly within her mouth.  Our orthodontist asked her to stick out her tongue and move it from side to side.  She could not reach the left side, as if her tongue was unnaturally tethered.  Again…”WHAT?!  Really?!

One food allergy kit and one tongue laser surgery later, both symptoms are being cured…finally after two stints in braces for a combined 3+ years!

To confuse things even further, Jackie’s new allergist is referred to as Professor.  I haven’t met him yet, but I imagine an older man in a ratty tweed suit with patches on the elbows carrying a briefcase bursting with papers to correct.

Last, the vet is a proper Doctor.  Lucy has been hobbling on her leg for weeks, and I began to fear the worst when pain killers and anti-inflammatory pills proved ineffective.  An X-ray revealed a torn ligament in her knee.  My next stop is to see an orthopedic veterinary surgeon (i.e. Mister?) who is a renowned knee specialist in the UK.  Lucy will be healed after a 10 week recuperation.  The pigeon and the geese population of London can breathe a communal sigh of relief!


Lucy’s medicines will be collected from the Chemist. This appellation always conjures images of mad scientists in white lab coats surrounded by fuming test tubes.  Her surgery will be held in an operation theatre.   This antiquated term for what we call a “room” harkens back to centuries ago when surgery was a spectacle that many people went to see and was often performed in an amphitheatre.  Speaking of theaters…

Shakespeare famously penned:  “What’s in a name?”

That is a loaded question when addressing a physician in the UK.

Choose your title wisely:  Doctor, Mister, Professor…Oh my!


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