#DPTStudent Chat Feature Friday – Should PT’s be called Dr.?

Welcome to the first inaugural edition of the #DPTStudent chat “Feature Friday”, which will be a weekly recap of the Twitter chat/Google Hangout that the #DPTStudent group hosts every other Wednesday night from 9:00 – 10:00 EST. Be sure to monitor the #DPTstudent hashtag on Twitter and follow the chat administrators, @LauraLWebb, @TylerTracy10 and @Jocelyn_SPT for announcements about topics, including live interviews.

On Wednesday, the #DPTStudent Chat posed the question, “Should Physical Therapists call themselves ‘Doctor’?” We went back to our roots with a text-based, Twitter chat in-stead of a Google Hangout interview and the discussion was as lively as ever! So what was the verdict? There wasn’t one. But people had many intriguing perspectives. Here are some notable thoughts from participants:

[Use] “Dr…” to clarify your role as a healthcare professional & “…Ben” to build personal trust & rapport with patients – Scott McAfee, SPT (@McAfeePT)

Problem is society has = “doctor” w/ MD, when “doctor” is general term for terminal degree for many prof. – Brent Todd (@ToddBrent)

I think it helps to give our profession credibility to the patient/the public. Some-thing PT still needs help with.#DPTstudent – Maddie Williams, SPT (@Maddie_Williams)

A DPT friend of mine doesn’t use “Dr.” with pts bc he thinks it puts up a barrier/makes them feel less comfortable. – Kristen Lund, SPT (@lunderina)

Ideas from PTs and students were all over the map but it seemed like most leaned towards using the title with patients, but maybe not amongst colleagues. Dr. Ben Fung (@DrBenFung) noted that the title can increase trust with some patients, there-by increasing adherence and maybe even outcomes. Conversely, Dr. Joel Novak, PT, DPT (@JoelNovakPT) noted that “trust is earned through knowledge, care and listening to your patients… no title will ever replace that.” Of course, by posing these questions, we were not suggesting that the title replaces the need for the great communication, care and empathy it takes to be a good PT. Rather, the title can convey to your patients that you have been through years of post-graduate training.

A criticism raised repeatedly was that patients are confused by the title and associate it with physicians; however, Dr. Ben Fung posted multiple pop culture references supporting his opinion that people “get it.” The title of doctor no longer means physician. For example, few are confused by calling their dentist “doctor.” Meanwhile, TJ Janicky, SPT (@TJ_Janicky) noted that this issue may apply mostly in acute care, where medical professionals are coming in and out often. In this situation, where patients may be in various states of confusion, maybe we should take special care to say “I am Dr. NAME, your physical therapist.” Further, different cultural and situation-al factors may affect how positively your patients perceive the concept of doctor. Context is important.

Again, the overall leaning was toward using the title of doctor. Many agreed that physical therapists should introduce themselves as such and then give patients the option to interact on a first name basis. This establishes PTs as being on a doctoring level while maintaining the rapport that makes the profession so special. It also creates an opportunity to educate patients on what physical therapists do, opening the door to discussions about direct access, health literacy and advocacy. Dr. Ben Fung said it best when he ended with:

“Beyond the debate on titles, DPT is here; it will become the norm & needs to be leveraged for constructive legislative movement.”

While patient populations, clinical settings and personal branding differ between therapists, clinics, institutions and regions, the profession as a whole can likely agree that there is much progress to be made. Whether we like it or not, the DPT has arrived and serves as undeniable tool to pull more weight for legislative issues, wade through bureaucratic mud and leverage our profession in healthcare.

You can read the chat in its entirety at this link: bit.ly/VOwEqq.

12 responses to “#DPTStudent Chat Feature Friday – Should PT’s be called Dr.?

  1. TJ Janicky says:

    Great chat this week guys! This is always a great subject! I stick to one of my previous tweets, in regards to the DPT, “we earned it, we use and we make clear who we are, what we do and that shouldn’t negatively effect the relationship”

  2. Carl DeRosa says:

    Just curious. Is anyone aware of any profession that counsels their graduates NOT to use the appropriate title associated with the degree earned? Actually advises grads not to use title that has been earned?

    1. L says:

      Attorneys. A law degree is a Juris Doctor. It’s considered a doctoral level degree, but lawyers do not get the Dr. prefix.

  3. Ryan Grella says:

    It’s a complete insult to the overall intelligence of the general public to suggest anybody with a sound mind would not know the difference.

    The first minute of this video portrays it perfectly.

    I can sort of see an argument to be made in the acute care environment however, one can also point out that podiatrists, psychologists, and even clergy are entering patient rooms using the title “Doctor” and there does not seem to be a problem. You introduce yourself and then state your profession, no issue.

    The fact that these debates still persist shows a lot about how far our profession needs to go. Chiropractors, optometrists, vets, and dentists are not sitting around debating whether they should use the title “Doctor”.

  4. Matt says:

    “Rather, the title can convey to your patients that you have been through years of post-graduate training.”

    ….of pseudoscience?


    “…to pull more weight for legislative issues, wade through bureaucratic mud and leverage our profession in healthcare.”

    There is the answer

    So where does it stop?

    I am Dr. Smith, your nurse
    I am Dr. Smith, your psychologist
    I am Dr. Smith, your chiropractor
    I am Dr. Smith, your pharmacist
    I am Dr. Smith, your physician
    I am Dr. Smith, your (insert medical specialty)
    I am Dr. Smith, your podiatrist
    I am Dr. Smith, your dentist
    I am Dr. Smith, your orthodontist
    I am Dr. Smith, your physical therapist
    I am Dr. Smith, your professor
    I am Dr. Smith, your optometrist

    The term doctor is starting to sound more like Mr/Mrs….

  5. Burton Ford, PT, DPT, OCS says:

    I believe DPT’s have earned the right and should address themselves as such when they feel it is appropriate. Perhaps not to an acutely ill person or someone impaired or every two seconds like chiropractors. I agree that the vast majority of society would comprehend DPT vs MD.

    There’s lots of problems (i.e. many PT’s themselves do not embrace it, even mock it, call DPT’s Mr./Mrs.; the APTA itself is not on board to change the regulatory designator to DPT until 2025, and as such state boards will refer to us as Mr./Mrs.; It is not commonplace and unlikely to be accepted/respected in multidisciplinary clinics where more traditional “doctors” also work; retaliation by those who don’t “agree with that” is a possibility.

  6. Could be illegal in Florida – FPTA paid for a legal opinion 2 years ago (bad move) and, to summarize and paraphrase from above:
    “Context is important”.

    Turns out the FPTA attorney believe patients could be confused especially in a setting with physicians, such as a POPTs or hospital, if a PT introduces herself/himself as “Dr. So-And-So”.

    Maybe better NOT to get legal opinions in cases like this. Hmmm?

  7. Interesting debate, In the end a Medical Dr has more experience and years more of schooling. We had a professor at our school that used to loved to be called Dr. H, and the title was misleading because he had a Doctorates degree he was not an actual Doctor.

  8. Phil says:

    This debate is very interesting and needed. The definition of who a doctor is has changed dramatically over the past 50 years. It’s obvious that the conventional definition brings thoughts of a medical doctor. As a practicing DPT for the past 6 years in the out pt world of the greater NYC area I have run into a lot of different opinions about it. Some of the opposers are PTs who graduated with bachelors degrees who feel threatened by new DPT grads getting more respect in the clinic than they deserve. Other opposers have been DPTs that lack confidence and don’t want to be associated with the title. Another situation that is more understandable is the confusion it may cause with uniformed pts in the hospital setting due to the variety of professionals involved which I understand, but I believe the introduction a PT uses with the pt and family can clarify any confusion. The only profession that I’m aware of that has a doctorate degree but doesn’t use the title is in law. All other doctoral professional use their title. I have to admit it I really feel concerned for our profession when PTs in the out patient world talk down about using their title when there in the clinical setting. I can understand not mentioning it when in the hospital because your in the medical doctor world and they do deserve to be distinguished from other health professionals. However in an out pt clinic we must be proud of how hard we worked to be where we are and that we can make a significant impact on our clients function. And for the person who posted earlier about ” where does the dr title end, commenting on nurses psychologists , audiologist sand so on , my answer is WHO REALLY CARES HOW MANY DOCTORAL PROFESSIONS ARE IN EXISTANCE! If the profession requires you to spend a ton of money , time and clincal training and the result is a doctorate degree. That person deserves the respect of the title Dr. , especially because insurance reimbursement isn’t paying clinical or medical doctors what they deserve anymore , so at least let us use our title without any second thoughts. We deserve it.

  9. Nick Rainey says:

    One way that an outpatient clinic could transition to using “Dr” is by having techs and office staff use it. Then the therapist can choose to or to not use it depending on preference. This way the message of our education and competence is clear and then the PT can choose how often he wants it used in daily patient interaction.

    I know it could definitely cause some strain if some are DPTs and some are not. You don’t want the Bachelor’s trained PT being referred to the same as the PTA.

    I remember when I was a student and I referred to my CI as “Dr” my patient said “there are Doctors here?” It was obvious her level of respect increased.

  10. Scott says:

    It is my understanding that the APTA issued a statement in opposition to DPTs being referred to as “doctor”.

  11. Fidel says:

    I think other professions as well are a thing on interest if they should be called doctor or not

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