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March 22, 2019

I ran across a column: Why do patients call me by my first name?by Dr. Karen J. Fahey. It got me thinking about respect for the medical profession.

Flashback: The first thing that came to mind was Raymond J. Johnson who made a career out of the line “You can call me Ray, or you can call me RJJ…but you doesn’t hasta call me Johnson.”

So, what shouldwe call our doctors?

I called our family doctor Doc. He wanted everybody to call him Doc, yet I was only seven or eight at the time and hardly old enough to express such familiarity. My parents taught me to mind my p’s and q’s––they were sticklers for formality and proper manners. I grew up to realize that medicine is a noble profession. Doctors heal; they cure disease and deserve respect.

Patients should inherit some of those traits.

The golf course introduced me to doctors on a first name basis. I’ve dug divots with heart surgeons; an orthodontist sank a putt that cost me a match. I shared golf carts with a gastroenterologist and a pediatric cardiologist. I’ve never been paired with a nurse, and our veterinarian didn’t play golf so I can’t claim a Medical Grand Slam.

Doctors wear Bermuda shorts on a golf course like the rest of us, but when they don a lab coat they command respect. In case you don’t know length has special meaning like gold braid on a military officer’s cap. An embroidered name identifies the doctor––for sure, the garment isn’t ‘off a rack.’

I learned that doctors deserve to be called Doctor. Then reverse psychology took over. I’m old enough to be my new dermatologist’s grandfather. “Hello, Mr. Cayne,” she said when we first met, “I’m Doctor Latowsky.” I stood up and stuck out my paw, “Hello Brenda,” I said. “Please call me Bob.” 

I lived in Cleveland for decades, knew Cleveland Clinic doctors and was operated on there. The sterile Clinic atmosphere carried over to private practice. Calling your physician Doctor honored their profession.

Then I moved to Arizona where rigid formality meets laid-back. People put Santa Claus hats on their saguaro cactus at Christmas. A thing like that comes as a shock. At Scottsdale’s Mayo Clinic patients in shorts and flip-flops outnumber doctors in pearly white coats, but not by much.

Nearby, my eye doctor David Johnson, MD wears floral patterned Hawaiian shirts and has since I met him twenty years ago. Mayo doctors work in teams. They are so buttoned down that you fear for what they are about to tell you. Both he and my primary care doctor Joseph Rotella, MD (who came to work dressed up as Fonzi on Halloween) are as close to visiting friends as you can get when you show up for an appointment.

They call me Bob, they doesn’t hasta call me Mr. Cayne.

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