3 Reasons Not to Call Yourself Doctor 

This question continually comes up with fresh PTs and even seasoned veterans…. Do I call myself Doctor? I have strong opinions on using the title in outpatient orthopedics, it’s how I introduce myself to patients and fellow healthcare providers. First, here are 3 reasons why you shouldn’t:

1) You’re not a DPT, you’re one of those seasoned veterans who remembers using diathermy, ultrasound on all patients, and the dinosaurs

No disrespect to the old timers. In fact, all of my respect to the physical therapists who have paved the way forward for us, the title doesn’t make you a good therapist that’s for sure. It doesn’t make you a good physician or chiropractor. It’s a title signifying your degree and level of knowledge not your competence.

2) Peer pressure from the other doctors or therapists in your practice that aren’t confident in what they do

Peer pressure… growing up it was “say no to drugs” and as adults it’s “Dr. or not.” I’ve heard from some DPTs that they don’t like using the title because their co-workers don’t like it so they don’t use it to almost “keep the peace.” This goes back to the confidence thing though if you’re confident in what you do ask a lot of questions, but not an A-hole, the colleagues will rise to your level of care and attitude.

3) You’re not confident in what you do 

Good old imposter syndrome. Which seems to disproportionally affect DPTs, more on recovery from that in another post. Why should anyone trust you? Maybe you don’t have the experience, maybe you haven’t had good results yet, or you’re just sure that the next patient you see won’t get better. You might not be getting the results because your patients can feel your lack of confidence…

I didn’t get comfortable overnight

I was confident in my ability to help people coming out of school but not in how I would be perceived. I had the dreaded imposter syndrome. A couple things changed that for me:

I stayed curious and wasn’t scared to try new things. When I first graduated I started working at a private practice that had the patients basically do a physician ordered exercise circuit for non-specific low back pain. Which was great starting out because I had the confidence to tell my chronic pain patients that they could keep exercising and not get worse. Which gave me a little bit of a safety blanket that if I tried something or assessed something new I could always go back to the old treatment plan. I could take the patients that weren’t getting better and do research in spare time at work and at home to get new ideas to bring in. If I didn’t see the answer I was looking for I had that safety blanket. We’ll write a post about working in a PT Mill and some of the benefits. 

I had a great mentor. I was actually very fortunate and had quite a few great mentors through my DPT program and in my career, but one in particular influenced and accelerated my clinical growth more than any other. In my last clinical rotation I had the great fortune of having Dr. Geissler as my CI. We were in a D1 training room so we had the luxury of seeing our patients/athletes daily. There would regularly be a rush where we had to manage care for many patients at a time, but then we’d have downtime to discuss cases, ideas, or techniques. So not only was he teaching us how to manage these cases and discuss them he was teaching us how to talk and think like an expert. He had just started listening to clinical podcasts maybe a year before we worked together and his big piece of advice was to start listening to podcasts. At first I thought this was dumb, I wasn’t on the podcast train yet, but then he said if you want to think and talk like an expert you need to hear how experts think and talk.

Following that piece of advice was career changing and helped SMASH down my clinical imposter syndrome.  Here are my favorite podcasts (link)

Another Big Shift

The next big shift was forced on me. I started working at a multidisciplinary clinic where everyone with a doctorate degree was called doctor. The front desk staff just automatically did it which took out a lot of the awkwardness. “Dr. White will be right with you.” Made for an easier start to being comfortable using it. Everyone was part of case presentations and we were all treated with respect and experts in our respective field. Respect isn’t just given though. The medical director of this clinic was excellent at building up the team. He would regularly come into the PT space to chat when he had a break, and to ask clinical questions about patients that either he had seen and was thinking of sending for a consult. This broke down the barriers for me and really showed that he respected my role. 

The second big shift for me was when I took a con ed course at a local chiropractic school (SFMA) most of the participants were students at the school. When we did break outs to practice the different assessments we were learning the students would role play and say “I’m the doctor and you’re the patient.” It took me back at first since this was new to me. In school we would say “I’m the PT” or “the therapist.” In con ed I’ve taken its similar language, or with technique courses they might use the term “operator,” which makes me think of the Navy Seals…. Hardly ever do DPTs, in an educational setting, use the title either (in con ed or in PT school) which makes it so much harder when we get into the real world.

I admit, the title of this post was “click baity” thanks for bearing with me. I think it matters very little if you call yourself Dr. or anything else, but it is a huge ego boost when your patients and other professionals start addressing you as doctor without prompting. At the end of the day, it’s your degree, your career, your life. You decide where you want to put your professional energy.