Mister or doctor


Whether or not a surgeon uses the title Mr (Miss or Mrs) or Dr is a personal choice.

The tradition of addressing surgeons as “Mr”, rather than “Dr”, is firmly entrenched in English surgical practice.  Its origins date back to the 1500s when the “barber-surgeons” evolved. This is when surgeons were trained in barber shops, not universities. By the 18th century, physicians (non surgical doctors) had gained university qualifications and started calling themselves Dr. The university trained doctors would not allow the surgeons to be called Dr as they had no formal qualification. The Dr’s also used this as a form of elitism, identifying those “fit to be called gentlemen”.

In 1745 the Royal College of Surgeons of London was formed with surgeons separating themselves from the Company of Barbers and Surgeons. The title “Mr” was retained and began to be seen as a label of status, as it marked the completion of formal examinations and acceptance as a College fellow. Modern surgeons have completed many years of training following successfully completing a medical degree at university.

The strong influence of the Royal College of Surgeons of England in the formative years of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) led to the persistence of the use of Mr in Australia. In North America Surgeons use Dr or specify MD in their name. They do not use ‘Mr’.

Recently in Australia ‘Mr’ appears to be losing favour, especially in New South Wales with more surgeons now using Dr than Mr.  Some patients have raised concerns such as:

“who are the people in the Health Service?—who is actually treating me?- who is a doctor and who isn’t?”

With the use of the terms Mr, Mrs, Miss, Dr, Professor etc it is not always absolutely clear to the patient whether someone is a doctor or not.  This can be important with the complexity of some medical conditions requiring the input from many members of the health service.

Other observers state stronger reasons for this old English tradition to be abandoned. The medical editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, described the convention of addressing surgeons as Mr, as `an outrageous piece of inverted snobbery', tempering this remark with the possibility that it may be a `harmless historical quirk'.

I personally don’t see a problem with either the use of Mr or Dr.

Children certainly identify with the term Doctor. Many of my patients are children and often call me Dr Craig.  So whilst I am listed by the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons as Mr Craig Semple, I personally prefer the title of Dr.

My patients and staff however will tell you I prefer to be just called Craig.