Wednesday 8 July 2015

We are all doctors now

Type the words “English obsession with ...” into Google and its top suggestions are class, tea, weather and Germany.

At the apex of our class structure is the Queen, and below her the various ranks of those with noble titles. These may be held by right or by courtesy, like those of the select band of Ladies who are the daughters of dukes, marquesses and earls, and the many more who are the wives of peers, baronets and knights.

Coronets: a spotter's guide

Only the former, pedants like me delight in pointing out, may properly use their Christian names in conjunction with their titles, like the fictional Lady Mary Crawley of Downton Abbey.

The principle of the courtesy title is well established in medicine, too, where the vast majority of the people we call “doctor” do not actually hold such a qualification, but are mere Bachelors of Medicine and Surgery.

While those who progress up the career ladder to become consultant surgeons confusingly promote themselves to “Mr”.

I could have been a doctor myself if only I had had the stamina to complete the PhD on World War II I began in 1976. As I might have done if there had not a particularly good pub adjacent to the Public Record Office in Kew.

Flogging back to Cambridge after a hard day wrestling with three pints of Young’s Bitter and a steak pie, I used to compare notes with my flatmate, who was completing the long course to qualify as a veterinary surgeon.

Meeting him again at his eldest son’s wedding on Saturday, I was surprised to find that he has suddenly metamorphosed into a doctor.

As have all UK vets who feel so inclined as of March 6th this year when, following a public consultation, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons ruled that its members could adopt the title if they wished. Bringing them into line with vets in other parts of the EU and elsewhere in the world.

Similar arguments about international equity have apparently allowed British dentists to call themselves doctor since 1995, though they have yet to allay all the concerns of the Advertising Standards Authority.

Mrs Hann was quick off the mark with her congratulations, asserting her long-held belief that vets are far cleverer than doctors since their patients can’t explain what ails them.

That sentence becomes more complex now that it needs to be recast to say that the people calling themselves doctors who treat animals are obviously brighter than the people calling themselves doctors who treat humans.

Vets are enjoined by their Royal College to put a suitable suffix after their names to make it clear that they are, in fact, vets. But I feel we have a lot to learn from this levelling of the playing field.

Heart-warming indeed

Sitting in vets’ waiting rooms over the years, I have long been fascinated by the willingness of people who do not appear conspicuously wealthy to hand over large wedges of cash for the treatment of their pit bull terriers or Persian cats.

These same individuals, I suspect, would be horrified if asked to pay anything at all for a consultation with their GP.

Vets also have the freedom to advise when further treatment seems futile and it would be kinder to bring life to a merciful close. An exit route denied to us mere humans unless we have the wherewithal and the physical strength to get ourselves to Dignitas in Zurich.

In creating more doctors we still have some way to go to catch up with our friends in Dr Merkel’s Germany, where a doctoral title is so de rigueur for anyone aspiring to the top in politics or business that their defence minister famously had to resign in 2011 after being found to have plagiarised his PhD thesis.

In Germany even the pizzas are made by doctors

So I congratulate my old friend on his belated and I am sure well-deserved elevation to the doctoral ranks. I hope to join him, in time, either because it is decided to award the title to senior practitioners of public relations; or because I make it back to university to complete my PhD

Though this time I think my thesis might be about class, tea or the weather rather than the Germans.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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