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Why call a doctor, “Doctor”

If you look up Merriam-Webster online, you find “The word doctor comes from the Latin word for “teacher,” itself from docēre, meaning “to teach.” Using that definition, it isn’t much of a logic stretch to figure that Jill Biden’s Ed.D. earned the title “Doctor” – her dissertation is on student retention, she has been a teacher. Admitted, the Ed.D. isn’t granted the same respect as the PhD.

The Ph.D. is the highest academic degree in our US system. At Oxford, a Doctor of Divinity outranks a Ph.D. Academic degree ranks are displayed subtly – at a University graduation, the newly- minted Ph.D’s are usually hooded as individuals, while law (Juris Doctorate) and medicine (MD and DO) are hooded in a college ceremony. Still, I don’t go to a MD/PhD holder because of the Ph.D. The Juris Doctorate replaced the bachelor of laws in my lifetime, so is the new kid on the block. The Russians have a degree beyond the Ph.D. A lot of foreign graduates with a Master’s transfer into the US as equivalent to a Bachelors. Rating degrees is a tricky business. I have a couple of MD friends who avoid the conflict by continuing to introduce me as “professor” to avoid the confusion. It might be a solution for Dr. Biden. Just think of the problems for someone with a doctorate in nursing.

Some folks have hammered the quality of Dr. Biden’s dissertation. I’ve scanned it. I have no problem saying I’ve seen better documents, dissertations that better expanded the scope of human knowledge. I have only served on graduate committees for agriculture, engineering and various sciences. On the other hand, I once worked with a history Ph.D. holder whose dissertation had come exclusively from an Illinois high school graduate’s hobby (obsession?) of collecting poetry written by Abraham Lincoln. In mine, I wound up rejecting my own hypothesis. I kind of figure the quality of the dissertation is the committee’s responsibility.

If you want your own disrespected doctorate, probably the most irrelevant degrees come from General Delivery University You can click on the website, spend a couple minutes looking at the curriculum, and print your diploma, signed by General Delivery himself. At least I think it’s himself – I don’t know the preferred pronoun for General Delivery.

Even “Mister” can be an earned title – the Navy’s Warrant Officers are referred to as Mister, recognizing their status. (Ensign, Lieutenant JG and Lieutenant are also addressed as Mister. Dad earned that common title. To the rest of us, it’s an unearned courtesy.

In England, physicians graduate with the MB degree – Bachelor of Medicine. The BCH is an additional bachelor’s degree in surgery. The Brit MD requires a thesis. Given our proximity to the 49th parallel, it’s worth mentioning these differences. From the pair of Brit physicians I’ve met, the BM holder is called doctor, while the MD is called mister. Keeping the players straight is a bit of a challenge.

I’ve spent quite a few years in the academy, at several colleges and universities, while holding at first a BS, later a Master’s, and eventually a Ph.D. I’m the same person, regardless of the educational title. If you sign your name with your educational title behind it, call me doctor. If you sign your name without educational references, call me Mike.

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