Are You a Physician or a Doctor?
Semantics? Or is there a tangible difference between the two words and professions?
The dictionary claims that there is difference between the two words, then later says that the two are interchangeable, at least in the US. So which one are you?
A physician (technically speaking) is a person skilled or involved with ‘physic’. Physic is an old French word for ‘art of healing’ or’ natural science’. The suffix ‘ician also from the old French and refers to the person skilled in a profession, and now refers to an occupation. Therefore a ‘Physician’ is a person skilled in the occupation of healing or natural science. Does this describe you?
A doctor is a teacher. A ‘doctor’ in Latin is a teacher. Originally from the Latin docere meaning to ‘show’ or ‘make appear right’. Docere is also the root for the word decent. Also from the Old French-doctour which means ‘adviser or scholar’. Does this title fit your practice style?
Lots of boys or girls want to grow up to be doctors, but end up being physicians. Most children say they are playing doctor, but end up playing physician. To most Americans the terms are synonymous, but I submit that they describe two very different professions.
People go to medical school to become physicians. The years of textbook studies, the all-nighters studying for exams, and the long hours of residency are all aimed at one goal-to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to become a skilled healer. The knowledge and skills of the physician are vitally important in the healing profession. The TV show ‘House’ showcases a great physician, Gregory House, who works on the hospital staff, along with his team of students, to diagnose the hospital’s most difficult cases. As a physician, House is second to none, and his skills as a physician have saved at least one life each episode. Being a physician is extremely important in the healthcare field.
Doctors are persons who have dedicated their lives to helping people with their healthcare needs. They have compassion for their patients and work with their patients to keep their patients in good health. Doctors engage their patients with their healthcare decisions, counseling them on their options and helping them to make the best decisions for their healthcare. The old TV show “Marcus Welby, MD” idealized to a generation of Americans what a Medical Doctor should be; caring, sympathetic, and healing. Besides, “Marcus Welby, Physician” doesn’t have the same ring to it.
As Harriot Hunt, the 19th century Physician and feminist once declared: “The prevailing idea … is, that the doctor is to cure the disease. It is not so. The doctor and the patient together, are to cure or mitigate the disease. They must be coworkers. In order to be so, there must be the … the most cordial sympathy and frankness between them.”
Ideally, the best ‘healthcare providers’ have an abundance of the qualities of both a physician and a doctor. You need the knowledge and skills of a physician to diagnose and treat your patient’s medical needs. The modern physician has a wealth of technology available to them (though not as much as House) to assist in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases, and needs the skills to utilize the technology and the knowledge to interpret the data. Any good healthcare provider needs to be technically competent and the State licensing boards ensure that persons are minimally qualified to be physicians.
A doctor in practice, interacting with their patients, will spend a lot of time teaching their patients about healthcare options, lifestyle choices, and providing a counseling service to help their patients stay healthy. A doctor knows that sometimes the patient needs a sympathetic ear, and sometimes the patient needs a stern lecture on lifestyle choices to stay healthy. Being a doctor means being a lifelong partner with the patient in their healthcare needs. Being a Doctor requires wisdom in addition to knowledge.
My hope is that you have found the perfect blend of being a physician and being a doctor to give your patients the best healthcare that you possibly can. As we move more and more into a strictly regulated, (mandated) system of healthcare, I hope that everyone remains true to the reason that they entered the healthcare profession in the first place. I hope that the term ‘Doctor’ isn’t lost, and that teaching remains a primary function for all ‘healthcare providers’.
Totally agree. In additon, patients have litle understanding of the importance quality residency training. Quality residency programs tend to select applicant physicians that are likely to develop excellent abilities for being both a doctor and a physician.
R. Chris Kuhne, M.D. Ob/Gyn
From the patient perspective I can tell you that we do indeed know the difference, And spend countless hours searching out the nations “doctors” in all honesty I wish doctors would showcase this more.
I thought I had come up with the perfect solution… look for a concierge med doctor. Tried to find several in my area to meet / interview, only found 2! In Phoenix there has to be more than 2 “doctors” how does a patient tell the difference BEFORE becoming a patient? And as a doctor how do you showcase your best quality…your caring?
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