Dark Bilious Vapors

But how could I deny that I possess these hands and this body, and withal escape being classed with persons in a state of insanity, whose brains are so disordered and clouded by dark bilious vapors....
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Home » Archives » January 2005 » Of academic degrees and titles: "I don't get no respect...."

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01/20/2005: Of academic degrees and titles: "I don't get no respect...."

Over at Signifying Nothing, Chris Lawrence updated us on the latest contents of his TiVo, and in telling us about the SciFi channel's "revisioning" of Battlestar Galactica, he invited us to read some of his past raving about the show (Chris likes it a lot, and I'm not seriously disposed to argue with him about that). While chasing that pointer, I stumbled across this "lament" buried in a post on "My vote in 2004", where Chris was considering the long since deceased presidential campaign of Howard Dean:

which reminds meóI just busted my ass for five years to get to be called "doctor." $20 says Dean didnít write a fucking paragraph to get his M.D., yet the damn AP will call him "doctor" but me--nu-huh. Wassup with that?
Based on my observation of medical student workloads both at law school (at Northwestern the law and medical students shared the same dorm space) and in my present job (at an academic health science center) I'm fascinated by Chris's implication here that the only way one can "bust one's ass" is in the research and writing of a dissertation--most (if not all) medical students and medical residents of my acquaintance would categorize their long hours of study and practice, and low pay during their residencies, as "busting their asses", even if it doesn't result in a few hundred pages of scholarship. The total investment of time it takes to prepare a person to practice medicine is at least as long as that for a Ph.D.; keep in mind that there really is no such thing as a general practitioner in American medicine anymore. Even primary care physicians specialize, usually in internal or family medicine, and that generally represents an investment of 3-5 years beyond medical school graduation (residency training, in most teaching hospitals I'm familiar with, is referred to as "graduate medical education", and for excellent reason).

In the case of Governor Dean, we can pin this down exactly, though. A quick visit to the American Board of Internal Medicine website reveals that there is a form which allows you to confirm whether a doctor is board certified or not. Using the form reveals that Dr. Howard Brush Dean III was board certified in internal medicine in 1981. Therefore, we know that Dr. Dean studied medicine for 4 years (the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, where Dean received the M.D., does not have a 3 year medical program), and he had to complete an additional three years of residency training after the award of the M.D. degree. So Dean spent at least 7 years in professional study; granted, three of those years were postdoctoral rather than doctoral. But no doubt Dr. Dean "busted his ass" too, though perhaps in different ways than Dr. Lawrence.

I feel Chris's pain; after all my J.D. degree is considered a doctorate (I even got to wear a doctoral gown and hood at commencement, so there), and if I started insisting on people calling me "Doctor Cleavelin" they'd start seriously questioning my sanity. (And to address that other issue, yes, I did write quite a few paragraphs to get that doctorate (a historical study on the Uniform Code of Military Justice, to be precise), since Northwestern had at that time (and may still, for all I know) a writing requirement for J.D. candidates; in theory, the writing we produced had to be of publishable quality, but I wasn't conceited enough actually to try to get mine published. I did spend two fewer years than Chris did to get his, so I'll concede he outranks me there.)

But I digress; at least Chris should be thankful that he's not living in the U.K. Over there the first professional degree in medicine is a bachelor's degree, yet English physicians are still addressed as "Doctor". If there are M.D. degrees given in England (a quick glance at several of British med school websites--Oxford, Edinburgh and University College, London--leaves me unsure that British medical schools award the M.D. degree anymore), they are analogous to a Ph.D.--a research degree requiring the research, writing and defense of a dissertation (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle received an M.D. from the University of Edinburgh after completing such a course). Those damn British physicians get to be called "doctor", and they don't even have a degree that says "doctor" on it.

Those lucky stiffs.


Len on 01.20.05 @ 01:37 PM CST


Replies: 4 comments

on Thursday, January 20th, 2005 at 5:59 PM CST, Bryan said

Actually British physicians use the title Mister, not Doctor unless they have gone on to obtain a doctorate, but they also avoid the extra four years of obtaining a bachelor's that is not required in their profession.

The title, doctor, is more probably to be seen in reference with the clergy than medicine. Academics tend to prefer professor to doctor.

It is disconcerting to hear things like "my doctor is Mr. Smythe".

on Thursday, January 20th, 2005 at 8:08 PM CST, Len Cleavelin said

As I understand (based on reading and conversations with British subjects), British physicians with the degree of BMChB (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery or the equivalent) are given the courtesy title "Doctor", while *surgeons* with the same degree use the courtesy title "Mister". It seems weird to refer to physicians as "doctors" while denying them that title. But that wouldn't be the strangest thing about British usages, I suppose.

What surprised me more is that, at least at Oxford, Edinburgh and UC--London, the medical schools don't seem to award the M.D. anymore; the references in their websites for graduate study in medicine are all to Ph.D. degrees now.

on Thursday, January 20th, 2005 at 8:32 PM CST, roboto said

What lawyers want to be called a "doctor" anyway, when "Barrister" is such a great word (better than the sissified "Esquire").

Barrister sounds like rolled up sleeves, whiskey, and a secretary writing things down on a tiny pad.

on Friday, January 21st, 2005 at 6:59 AM CST, Len Cleavelin said

Barrister is great, but alas, here in the United States we have a unified profession, so the barrister/solicitor distinction is really a distinction without a difference.

Though you're apparently not a "Rumpole of the Bailey" fan; to me "barrister" suggests wigs, robes, small cigars and after court glasses of Jack Pommeroy's finest plonk (Chateau Thames Embankment) in Pommeroy's Wine Bar.

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