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I know that the title Dr. is often used to refer to those who practice medicine. For example, today I am going to see Dr. [Surname].

But are we in general expected to use the title when we refer to the following other professions too?

  • Psychoanalyst
  • Veterinarian
  • Lawyer
  • Any other?
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1  
    
Not Lawyer. You forgot Dentist. –  user362 May 4 '11 at 16:14
    
@Al Everett Actually you can get a doctorate in law, making you a doctor. Look at the Wiki: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juris_Doctor. Or look at @mplungjan 's link. –  kitukwfyer May 4 '11 at 17:31
    
@kitukwfyer: I have never heard a lawyer referred to as "Doctor" except perhaps a Professor of Law with a Ph.D. –  user362 May 4 '11 at 19:44
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3 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

There are different customs in different countries. See the Wikipedia article for more details.

To take an example with which I'm familiar, in the UK, the title "Dr" is used to indicate one of two things:

  • That the person holds a doctoral degree, e.g. PhD, EngD, MD*, etc.
  • That the person holds a bachelor's degree in a medical field, e.g. MBChB (medical doctor), BDS (dentist), BVSc (vet).

In addition, a person with an honorary doctorate may, if they wish, use the title "Dr".

(* In the UK, and unlike the USA, "MD" is a higher medical degree).

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But note that (in the UK) a surgeon drops the title Dr and reverts to Mr/Mrs etc. –  neil May 4 '11 at 9:57
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Without disagreeing with the above - using the title because of an honorary doctorate is rather pretentious. –  Marcin May 4 '11 at 10:00
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@Marcin: agreed! I've only seen it used at graduation ceremonies, when the honorary degree is actually awarded. However, Wikipedia states that you could -- in theory if not in practice -- use it other times as well, so I bow to the higher authority. :-) –  Steve Melnikoff May 4 '11 at 10:14
    
Most dentists in the UK seem to eschew the title as well. –  Colin Fine May 4 '11 at 14:48
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The title Doctor is applied to both medical doctors and to anyone with a PhD in any subject.

So far as I know, most English speaking countries don't legislate who may use the title of Doctor. I believe the situation is different in, for example, Germany. Therefore it is a matter of social convention. I expect the law would be broken if you used the title in an attempt to deceive an employer, patient or customer.

It is notable that consultants in hospitals, who are usually highly qualified, use the title "mister".

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It is often a matter of context and personal preference. I hold a Ph.D. and so it's not wrong to refer to me as Dr. Gregory. I only ever introduce myself that way when I am on a university campus in my professional capacity. I occasionally allow others to introduce or address me that way (allow meaning I don't correct them in front of third parties) in other contexts, but I don't do it myself. That's my preference for everyone with a Ph.D. and in fact for most medical doctors too. I don't see why, in a meeting of the neighborhood watch, we all need to be reminded about somebody's educational background. That said, if you constantly call the dentist on your block Dr. Whoever you won't be grammatically wrong, just possibly socially wrong.

If the person is a stranger and you're writing about them, go with Dr. Whoever. If it's a real person, ask them, in case they feel as I do about it. I can't resist telling you what my mother, who also holds a Ph.D., did once. Someone introduced her to someone else, saying "Mr. X, meet Ms. Y. " Mr. X responded "Oh, I don't believe in Ms., I will call you Mrs. Y" to which my mother sweetly smiled and said "Oh, if we're going to be technical you can call me Dr. Y" - as you might imagine Mr. X turned very red and excused himself from the conversation quite quickly.

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