During an exchange between members of our veterinary panel and some clients, a friendly online discussion started on how to address veterinarians. Are veterinarians doctors? In the traditional sense? What is the traditional sense of a doctor anyway?
As it happens often, the answers were definite, but couched in nuanced context.
First and broadly speaking, a doctorate can be awarded in any field. A lawyer, for example, holds a doctorate; he or she is a juris doctor—a doctor of laws (although some argue that one with a Doctor of Juridical Science should always be called a doctor). An individual with a PhD or some other terminal degree can earn the title of “doctor.” However, outside of medicine and college campuses, “doctor” is rarely used as a title.
The word “doctor” has its roots in the Latin word for “teacher.” The term is originally a religious title from medieval times. A person with a doctorate has been, in essence, instilled with enough knowledge on a particular subject to teach at a collegiate level.
It should be noted that not all doctorates require a thesis—as in the case of physical therapy, law and medicine. Finally, some doctorates are not earned through academic achievement, but by altruistic actions or lifetime accomplishments.
Thus, physicians are doctors of medicine. The same can be said of veterinarians, who hold a DMV (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine). The DMV in the U.S. is the same awarded in many countries including Bangladesh, Canada, Ethiopia, Hungary, Iran and South Korea, Thailand and many more.
The same goes for England—although only recently in 2015—when the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons made a ruling that veterinarians will, for the first time, be allowed to call themselves “Dr.” instead of “Misters.”
In most industries, formality and addressing are key for success. The “doctor” label tends to vary depending on the industry. Calling an attorney a doctor is not necessary and even seen as odd. In the medical industry, physicians are referred to as “doctors,” even if members of the nursing, administrative or pharmaceutical staff hold doctorates (not uncommon). This formality reduces confusion for patients in hospitals. College professors certainly have their own and often idiosyncratic preferences on how to be addressed.
Okay, but what about veterinarians?
The answer is that one most certainly should address veterinarians as doctors in a professional setting. As mentioned, they hold doctorates in a medical field.
As one veterinarian explained:
Veterinarians are doctors in a different field of specialty. In fact, the veterinarian curriculum is more diversified than human medicine because of the amount of different species and physiologies we have to study. Many veterinarians, especially general practitioners, take on many responsibilities as surgeon, pharmacist, diagnostician, radiologist, behaviorist, dentist, orthopedic surgeon … and provide comfort to both patient and owner.
Veterinarians certainly parallel physicians in many ways, as our syndicated studies have shown: The majority work more than 40 hours a week; their education cost and fees have skyrocketed in the last generation; and they regularly work under extreme duress. Both veterinarians and physicians also save many lives and alleviate sickness.
Regardless, now you know that veterinarians are doctors in all senses, as we learned in a research project with our veterinary panel. You also know how to address your veterinarian the next time you’re at the clinic with your pet or pet project.