You have called me doctor for 10 years
 

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You have called me doctor for 10 years

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You have called me doctor for 10 years

 

You have called me doctor for 10 years

A press reception was held late last year to mark the tenth anniversary of dentists being able to use the courtesy title ‘Doctor’. The reception provided an opportunity to hear the story from those closely involved with bringing about this change.

What happened in 1995?

On 14 November 1995 the General Dental Council decided that it did not regard the use of the courtesy title 'Doctor' as a matter of serious professional misconduct and deleted the relevant wording from its guidance (the so-called 'Red Book').

A few days later the GDC Registrar wrote to dentists to say that this allowed dentists to use the title. They had to take care to ensure that they did not use it in such a way as to mislead patients or public into thinking that they were anything other than dentists.

The media announced that 'dentists can now call themselves 'doctor'. Douglas Pike, who had led the campaign for change told the Daily Telegraph, ‘In less than 20 years all dentists will be known as doctor as a matter of course’. He told the dental press on 15 November that the decision 10 years ago was not the end of the road, but marked the beginning of a long journey to establish the use of the title as custom and practice.

Background to 1995

The pressure for change mounted through letters to British Dental Journal and dental press. Some 1,000 dentists pledge support to the 'Call me Doctor' campaign donating £10 each to the cause. Support also came from both the British Dental Association and General Dental Practitioners Association (now DPA).

Clause 26 of the Dentists Act (1984), which while not specifically mentioning the title 'Doctor' said that a dentist should not use any title 'reasonably calculated to suggest that he possesses any professional status or qualification' other than that which he possesses, The GDC's guidance said· that it followed from this that dentists could not use the title Doctor.
What was needed was either to amend the Act to allow the courtesy title or to change the GDC's interpretation of this clause. The former option was not open (but is now), so the GDC decided to change its guidance 10 years ago last month.

The last 10 years

The other challenge was to establish the title by custom and practice. In addition to the Registrar's letter, in 1998 the GDC issued the following guidance in Maintaining Standards:

1.4 A dentist who uses the courtesy title 'doctor' has a duty to ensure that it is not used in' a way that misleads the public.’

Although there was no doubt about the intention of the GDC vote they decided not to use the title either at meetings or in communication with dentists. This lead was followed by the Dental Practice Board and Health Authorities. A challenge was also made by the Advertising Standards Authority which banned its use in Yellow Pages listings.

Despite these small setbacks, dentists have increasingly used the title in their practices with patients and in their personal lives. It is routinely used by dental bodies such as the BDA and DPA and is almost universally used in both the dental and lay press.

During the last 10 years, many of the fears expressed then have not materialised. Custom and practice are being established; patients and the public have not been confused. The change has been good for the profession and younger members of the profession now routinely call themselves 'Doctor'. They have to thank the pioneers for this change.

The way forward

Although the title is gaining increased acceptance, there is still some diffidence about using it by some dentists and lack of clarity about its status. The journey towards establishing universal acceptance of the title through custom and practice is not over. The decision 10 years ago was not an isolated event and the journey towards full acceptance continues. What is needed now is acceptance by officialdom that the change has taken place with or without a change to the Act.

 Posted on : Tue 14th - Feb - 2006

 

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