My understanding is as follows. Is this universally agreed?

The OED sense 2a of surgery explains its use to describe the room where a doctor sees his patients. The OED gives no indication that this sense is exclusively used in Britain.

2a. The room or office in a general practitioner's house or a health centre where patients are seen and treatment is prescribed; the regular session at which a doctor receives patients for consultation in his surgery.

Nowadays where GPs work in group practices the individual rooms used by each are rarely, in my experience called surgeries. We refer to the entire building where our doctors practice as the surgery. "When you go to the village, could you call in at the surgery and collect my prescription".

As we sit in our doctors' waiting room, when our turn arrives an electronic sign with the patient's name on says 'please go to room 5'. Hence the place where you encounter the doctor is not strictly a surgery, but nowadays a room within a surgery. It is historically known as a consulting room.

As the OED explains, and as can be seen from the OED definition, a surgery is also a session during which the doctors are available to see patients. e.g. morning surgery starts at 8.00am; afternoon surgery at 3.00pm.

The OED also goes on to explain how people such as Members of Parliament, Accountants etc hold surgeries, borrowing the word from the medical profession.

1846 Bentley's Misc. June 549 A small den [Dr. Faunce] called ‘the surgery’.

1862 M. E. Braddon Lady Audley's Secret III. vii. 200 The door of the little surgery was ajar... The surgeon was standing at the mahogany counter, mixing a draught in a glass measure.

1872 L. P. Meredith Teeth (1878) 252 In some localities, the dentists..crowd their surgeries together in the same building.

1938 F. B. Young Dr. Bradley Remembers i. 1 Between six and eight..Dr. Bradley ‘took’ his evening surgery as usual.

1944 J. D. Carr Till Death do us Part xi. 113 I've got to be back..for surgery at half-past ten.

1964 D. Francis Nerve v. 73 I'm late for surgery... Those pills ought to keep him quiet.

1975 ‘J. Bell’ Victim ii. 23 Dr. Swallow was dealing with his morning surgery.

  • 3
    About half of your examples are not using surgery in the sense of a room, but in the sense of the act of hacking someone up.
    – Oldcat
    Jun 16, 2015 at 0:57
  • 5
    Note that 'the surgery', whether as a doctor's office or anything else, is just not used in AmE.
    – Mitch
    Jun 16, 2015 at 1:21
  • 3
    1. What is the question? Is it about the word surgery, as the body of the question seems to suggest, or about a term for the MI Room? Can you be more specific?
    – Kris
    Jun 16, 2015 at 6:16
  • 1
    2. Why not set aside the notion that surgery is about and only about "treatment by incision" which it is not?
    – Kris
    Jun 16, 2015 at 6:22
  • @Oldcat None of the OED examples refer to 'the act of hacking someone up'. The two meanings of surgery to which 2a relates are as the name of the building where doctors see their patients, and as a session of seeing patients (which may simply involve looking in their throats and asking them to say ah!) For some reason, and this is a new discovery to me, these two senses of surgery are not used in America. I do seem to recall from my time in Australia that they used surgery in the same way we do.
    – WS2
    Jun 16, 2015 at 8:55

5 Answers 5


This usage is not a universal in modern English.

American dialects typically refer to a doctor's office as the building and/or room used for examination. The building may also be a clinic. The room itself may be called an examination room or, in most informal spoken English, an exam room. If the doctor is practicing within a hospital, they have an office in the hospital.

Surgery is a specialized term in the USA that typically describes only the branch of medicine related to cutting people open for repairs or examination.

From the American Heritage Dictionary on surgery:

  1. The branch of medicine that deals with the diagnosis and treatment of injury, deformity, and disease by the use of instruments. 2. a. Treatment based on such medicine, typically involving the removal or replacement of diseased tissue by cutting: The athlete had surgery on his knee. b. A procedure that is part of this treatment; an operation: The doctor performed three surgeries this morning.
  2. An operating room or a laboratory of a surgeon or of a hospital's surgical staff: How long has the patient been in surgery?
  3. Chiefly British a. A physician's, dentist's, or veterinarian's office. b. The period during which a physician, dentist, or veterinarian consults with or treats patients in the office.
  • 1
    It surprises me that you would call it an office as the room typically contains so much more than office equipment, -medical equipment, an examination couch, etc. Indeed it is a place where minor surgical procedures can be carried out. Our surgery, from which six General Practitioners operate, does have an office, but that is where the receptionist sits, as well as the staff who run the clerical functions of the practice. Seems as if we remain two nations separated by a common language.
    – WS2
    Jun 15, 2015 at 19:32
  • 5
    @WS2: I'd call the room where the doctor talks to and looks at patients an examination room, and not a doctor's office (the doctor's office would consist of all the rooms used by a doctor, which might contain a waiting room, examination rooms, a file room, and so forth). But I wouldn't count on all Americans using the same terminology in this regard. Jun 15, 2015 at 19:41
  • 2
    In Northern California at least, health center isn't a common term. I doubt I've ever heard it used here. Clinic would be more typical. Medical center is sometimes used for large, non-hospital medical facilities.
    – Jessa
    Jun 15, 2015 at 19:47
  • 3
    Just to agree: surgery is either the OR, or the activity performed in it. Either way, scalpels will be involved. You visit the doctor at her office (if she's the only MD there) or her clinic (if multiple doctors share the space). The actual room with the exam table, scale, etc. is called the exam room or examination room. IME, medical center is a hospital plus all the medical facilities that have grown up around it. Health center is either the free clinic on a college campus, or it's an "alternative medicine" facility.
    – Marthaª
    Jun 15, 2015 at 20:27
  • 2
    @Marthaª: Interesting. I'm a native AmE speaker, and I never thought of surgery as referring to the operating room. To me it's the act of operating on a patient, and never refers to a physical place. When you say the patient is in surgery, I don't understand that as giving her location, but just to mean that she is undergoing a medical operation. I guess I see in surgery as being analogous to in pain or in labor; it describes a person's state of being, not their location. Jun 16, 2015 at 6:29

I have always heard the building as a whole called the "doctor's office", and the particular room where the doctor sees you the "examination room".

  • 4
    There's also the term clinic, often used when more than one doctor works there.
    – J.R.
    Jun 15, 2015 at 19:15
  • 1
    In Britain a clinic is usual something of a specialist nature that is set up for the purpose - such as an ante-natal clinic. There are also post-natal clinics run by midwives where new-born babies are taken for regular check-ups.
    – WS2
    Jun 15, 2015 at 21:41

There is also the widely used "consultation room", although many dictionaries apparently have "consulting room" instead.

  • 2
    In Britain it is known as a consulting room - sometimes parodied as an insulting room!
    – WS2
    Jun 15, 2015 at 21:34

As a non-native speaker, the word practice came to mind. From Wiktionary:

  1. A place where a professional service is provided, such as a general practice. She ran a thriving medical practice.
  • 1
    Yes. We also speak about a doctors' practice. But the term practice is rarely applied to the building or the address from which they operate.
    – WS2
    Jun 16, 2015 at 14:28
  • Old Joke: One Doctor says to another, "When do we get to stop practicing medicine and start doing it for real?"
    – user126158
    May 12, 2016 at 15:25

Doctors see their patients in: doctor's offices, outpatient facilities, hospitals and clinics. Surgery is Chiefly British (unless you are in the operating room, being operated on by a surgeon.) I heard some doctors still make house calls.

  • House calls are rare, but for infirm people and in appropriate circumstances, especially if you are well known to the doctor, some will do that. When our children were little, about 30 years ago, our village doctor would sometimes call by if they were sick.
    – WS2
    Jun 15, 2015 at 21:38
  • Funny how "call" nowadays means telephone call and the meaning of "visit" has basically vanished.
    – user126158
    May 12, 2016 at 15:26

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