Consultation skills - Are first names appropriate?

Dr Lynda Carter prefers her patients to call her Lynda.

A recent GP article (GP, 20 March) argued that it is basic professionalism to use titles rather than first names. As a doctor who prefers to be called by my first name, I felt compelled to write a response.

How we are addressed is a very personal and individual preference

I am a newly-qualified GP, as of February 2009. I became aware during my VTS that my practice of introducing myself by my first name was uncommon after both of my trainers commented on it during video consultations.

I explained to them I preferred to be called Lynda, as that is who I am, and they respected this.

I appreciate that it is important for patients to know what my role is and when introducing myself I always say that I am a doctor so there is no confusion.

Doctor-patient relationship
In his article, Dr Charlton states that there is 'no harm' in asking patients how they would like to be addressed. I believe that finding out what a patient wants be called begins the process of forming a good doctor- patient relationship and that this is of benefit rather than no harm.

I try where possible to ask patients what they would prefer to be called and see no reason why I should not be addressed in the way I prefer.

I am aware that many elderly patients prefer to call their GP 'Dr'. I do give them the option of calling me Dr Carter but I also say that I prefer Lynda.

Professionalism
Interestingly, Dr Charlton thinks to be called 'Dr' is basic professionalism and that use of my first name may generate a lack of respect for me.

A similar point was made on a CSA revision course I attended, where I was told that if I used my first name my likelihood of passing may be jeopardised.

However, feedback from patients when I left my training practice and the results of patient satisfaction questionnaires and the CSA exam strongly suggest this is not true. I believe professional respect does not come with a title but is earned.

I agree with Dr Charlton that this is a question for individuals. I feel very strongly that I am a person, not a profession.

My preference applies throughout my life from working as a doctor, to being a patient, to my local bank. Dr, or even of Miss, gives me a sense of formality that I find uncomfortable.

An ideal doctor-patient relationship must be one where both parties are comfortable with how they are addressed.

  • Dr Carter is a GP locum in West Yorkshire
  • Join in the debate. Read the original article 'How should we address our patients?' on www.healthcarerepublic.com/firstnames and leave your comments

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