“Doctor” does not always = “Physician”


I have noticed an interesting trend as of late…

The inclusion of the designation of “doctor” (as in Dr. X) without the inclusion of credentials following the individual’s name, for example, Dr. X MD.

Let us set up a scenario shall we,

You are reading an article in which a health care/medical claim is being made.  The individual making said claim refers to himself as “Dr. X”.  In fact, Dr. X goes out of his way to ensure that you know that he is in fact a “doctor”.  With the above information in mind, most people would assume that Dr. X is a doctor of medicine, or in other words, a physician. 

This brings me to the topic of this blog post; the designation “doctor” does not automatically mean that an individual is a doctor of medicine (for as you may or may not know, anyone who has obtained a doctorate level education from a post secondary institution can legally refer to themselves as “Dr.”).  I have noticed an increasing number of individuals who promote/propagate pseudo-science refer to themselves as “Doctor” when making health/medical claims.  While the individuals making such claims may have a PhD, rarely, if ever, is their PhD in medicine. 

Now please do not misunderstand me.  I am not attempting to imply that only physicians can make healthcare/medical claims.  There are many individuals, both with and without healthcare credentials that are more than qualified to make statements pertaining to health and wellness.  In my opinion, it is however misleading to refer to oneself as a “doctor” under the above circumstances without providing clarification about what type of “doctor” the individual making the claim actually is.  It is my opinion that an individual that refers to them self as a “doctor” (when not actually being a doctor of medicine) when making a health claim (and is not obvious about their actual credentials) is attempting to purposely mislead the public by implying that the statements being made are supported by a member of the medical community, and thus indirectly are also supported by modern evidence based medicine/science. 

A perfect example of this is a book I received from a patient a while back.  The book focused on the “healing” powers of the goji berry.  The book was written by a “prominent DOCTOR in the healthcare field” (notice how the general term “healthcare” was used, as opposed to “medicine”).  The book made all sorts of amazing health/wellness claims regarding the “healing” powers of the goji berry, and left the reader to assume, “well if a doctor wrote this book, it must be true!”  Only after some digging on the internet did I learn that the nature of the author’s doctoral work.  His PhD status was not obtained in medicine, but instead was obtained in “food psychology”.

So with the above information in mind…

What can be done?  What can, YOU, the reader do?

Do not assume that someone who calls them self a doctor, is a doctor of medicine.  Take it upon yourself to check and individual’s credentials.  Any reputable healthcare professional will include their credentials when making a health/wellness/medical claim or statement.  If someone refers to them self as a doctor, do some investigating regarding what that individual is actually a “doctor of”.  That way you can determine if the individual making the claim is a doctor of medicine, or a doctor of some unrelated field…such as food psychology.  Armed with this information, you will be better equipped to critically appraise any health/wellness claims that you may encounter. 


One Response to ““Doctor” does not always = “Physician””

  1. OMG! I recall noticing the credentials of “food psychology” on a promo sheet for Goji berries! What the hell does food psychology even mean?!!!
    Good call sir.

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