Dr. Molly or Ms. Hooper: British Medical Nomenclature

The long excerpt below is from the award-winning language blog "Separated by a Common Language."  It's included here to help resolve the question: what is Molly Hooper's job? 
Would you let this woman take your pulse?

Her nametag is an unreadable blur, she is never referred to as "doctor."  Yet, she says she "does post-mortems" in Scandal in Belgravia at the Christmas Eve gathering at 221B Baker Street.  Molly is never identified as anything in terms of her job in the show, she is not specifically referred to as a doctor, even though only a trained doctor can perform a post-0mortem, and she is never referred to as a technician, assistant or any other job title.

She can easily be a doctor and still be called Miss/Ms Hooper. The relevant portion from the long excerpt:

In the US, medical doctors, no matter their specialty or status, are usually called Dr. [Surname]. In the UK, there's a kind of reverse snobbery, in that GPs and more junior specialists are called Dr [Surname], whereas surgeons and other consultants go back to being Mr or Mrs or Miss-- ... (Note that BrE tends not to put a (BrE) full stop/(AmE) period at the end of title abbreviations like Dr, Mr or Mrs, while AmE almost always does.)

(In this article "BrE" refers to "British English, and  "AmE" to American English. )


Separated by a Common Language: Physicians Titles

In the UK, your regular doctor, the one you see in their (AmE) office/(BrE) surgery, is your GP or general practitioner. In AmE, the insurance-driven name for such people is primary care physician, but most people would just call that doctor my doctor or their family doctor (who works in or operates a family practice--a term that is found in both countries, but in my experience is more common in the US). The term general practice is also known in the US, but one doesn't hear people talking about their GPs.

When your GP/primary care physician decides that you require more specialised attention, they refer you to a specialist--but in BrE they're likely to say that they're referring you to a (specialist) consultant. The experience of such referral can be somewhat different in the two countries. Let's say your usual doctor wants you to see a gastroenterologist. In the US, they say "I'm going to refer you to Dr. Guts." Then you get an appointment with Dr. Guts and meet Dr. Guts at that appointment. In the UK, you are referred to Mr Entrails' clinic (more on the 'Mr' shortly). Maybe you will see Mr Entrails--you're likely to on the first visit, at least--but you might see someone else in his clinic team, or firm (the term that Wikipedia reports--not one I've come across in the patient's seat). The consultant Mr Entrails has overall responsibility for your care, but a variety of more junior doctors might see you. Mr Entrails' clinic will most likely be located on hospital grounds, whereas American Dr. Guts will probably see you in an office complex--often one built specifically for medical offices.

In a hospital context, there are different titles (and responsibilities) for specialist doctors at different levels of training. In the UK, there's apparently been a move to 'moderni{s/z}e' medical career paths in the National Health Service, though I've seen little evidence of the changes reported on this NHS site. It says that a new title, Specialty Registrar [StR], replaces Senior House Officer [SHO] and Specialist Registrar from August 2007. But I was being seen by SHOs and Specialist Registrars at our hospital. So, I don't know if the new title applies only to people who have started since August 2007 or whether it's been abandoned, since when one hits the link for further info on the NHS site, one gets a 'page not found' message. For a comparison of new and old titles, see the table on this Wikipedia page. I'm going to stick with the old titles, since they're the ones I've experienced. [NB: Yes, it's specialty, not (BrE) speciality. This is one of many examples of BrE medical jargon being closer to AmE than to non-jargon BrE.]

So, in the UK, you're a medical student, then once you qualify as a doctor, you go on to be a house officer (Pre-Registration House Officer in the old system, Foundation House Officer in the new). After this, the doctor has a choice of going the GP route (which involves more training, but not all the titles I'm about to reel off) or undergoing specialist training for a minimum of two years as a Senior House Officer, followed by 4-6 years of further training and increased responsibility as a Specialist Registrar. One takes exams to go from one level to the next, with the highest level being Consultant. The amount of time one needs to train for these various positions varies by the specialty, culminating in the Certificate of Completion of Training after exams from the specialist college (e.g. the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists). All of this is overseen by the General Medical Council, which determines the standards for entry onto the specialist registers that allow one to work in hospitals as a consultant.

In the US, you're a medical student, then for your first year in the hospital you are an intern, which may or may not be considered the first year of your residency, during which you are a resident (physician). This can also be called house officer, as in the UK. After residency, one may or may not get a fellowship for sub-specialty training, before going on to be an attending (physician) [or staff physician] the equivalent of a (BrE) consultant.

In the UK, medical training begins at the undergraduate level--which is to say, people can be 'medical students' from their first year (BrE) at university. In the US, medical school is for (AmE) graduate/(BrE) post-graduate students, and the undergraduate students do pre-med degrees, which cover a lot of science, but also, like other US undergraduate degrees, a liberal arts curriculum. (Law training differs in a similar way in the two countries.)

What They are Called

In the US, medical doctors, no matter their specialty or status, are usually called Dr. [Surname]. In the UK, there's a kind of reverse snobbery, in that GPs and more junior specialists are called Dr [Surname], whereas surgeons and other consultants go back to being Mr or Mrs or Miss-- ... (Note that BrE tends not to put a (BrE) full stop/(AmE) period at the end of title abbreviations like Dr, Mr or Mrs, while AmE almost always does.) Here, I'll rely on Wikipedia again:
In the United Kingdom, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and other areas whose culture was recently linked to the United Kingdom, the title Doctor generally applies to both academic and clinical environment. "Registered medical practitioners" usually do not have a doctorate; rather, they have the degree of Bachelor of Medicine (usually conjoint with Surgery). Cultural conventions exist, clinicians who are Members or Fellows of the Royal College of Surgeons are an exception. As an homage to their predecessors, the barber surgeons, they prefer to be addressed as Mr, Mrs, Ms or Miss, even if they do hold a doctorate. This is first because they have normally achieved another degree - that of Master of Surgery (MCh from the Latin magister chirurgiae) from a university. When a medically-qualified person passes the notoriously difficult examinations which enable them to become a member of one or more of the Royal Surgical Colleges and become "MRCS", it is customary for them to drop the "doctor" prefix and take up "mister". This rule applies to any doctor of any grade who has passed the appropriate exams, and is not the exclusive province of consultant-level surgeons. In recent times, other surgically-orientated specialists, such as gynaecologists, have also adopted the "mister" prefix. A surgeon who is also a professor is usually known as "Professor", and similarly a surgeon who has been ennobled, knighted, created a baronet, or appointed a dame uses the corresonding title (Lord, Sir, Dame). Physicians, on the other hand, when they pass their "MRCP" examinations, which enable them to become members of the Royal College of Physicians, do not drop the "Doctor" prefix and remain doctor, even when they are consultants. In the United Kingdom the status and rank of consultant surgeons with the MRCS, titled "mister", and consultant physicians with the MRCP, titled "doctor", is identical. Surgeons in the USA and elsewhere may have the title "doctor".

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