No more Mr and Ms: surgeons replace gendered titles with ‘Dr’


By Michael Woodhead

13 Aug 2021

The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons is phasing out the use of sexist and elitist titles such as Mr or Ms, in favour of ‘Dr’.

The RACS says it will now adopt the title ‘Dr’ to refer to surgeons and is encourage its members to make this change in their private or personal practices.

The College says the use of the titles intended to distinguish between surgeons and physicians is an archaic and snobbish practice that does not have any relevance to surgical practice today.

“Surgery is the only profession that continues to use gendered titles in Australia and New Zealand,” said Dr Christine Lai, Chair, Fellowship Services Committee.

“Gendered titles can be confusing for patients because they create the perception that Dr X and Mr Y have different qualifications, despite both being surgeons specialising in the same field.”

“The gendered term somehow started to become attached to a certain prestige of being a surgeon and has carried forward to surgical practice today,” said Dr Lai.

Gendered titles could contribute to implicit bias against female surgeons, with many patients still questioning the qualifications of a ‘Ms’ surgeon, said Dr Lai.

“While overt discrimination is no longer legally tolerated, there is still a subtle implicit bias that can be perpetuated by gendered titles.”

“We are all doctors, and there is no reason for differentiate ourselves by including a reference to our gender in our title.”

According to the RACS, gendered titles for surgeon created power and status differences between surgeons and other medical professionals, male and female surgeons, and between married and unmarried women.

Removing gendered titles would also further cements RACS’s commitment to improving gender equity, building respect and demonstrating inclusion amongst the surgical workforce., the College said

The use of the term ‘Mister’ for surgeons dates back centuries to when surgeons wanted to differentiate themselves from university trained doctor-physicians by emphasising their training in barber shops.

On his website, Victorian ENT surgeon Dr Craig Semple notes that usage of the title Mr was entrenched in 1745 when  the Royal College of Surgeons of London was formed, with surgeons separating themselves from the Company of Barbers and Surgeons.

The change was reportedly sparked by a report by surgeons at the Women’s and Children’s Health Network, South Australia, which noted that all female surgeons in the state were referred to as Doctor while two thirds of male surgeons were referred to as Mister.

One of the report authors, plastic surgeon Dr Anthony Porter, welcome the RACS announcement but said it had yet to be implemented as policy by health services.

“It’s an excellent initiative by the College of Surgeons Patients will find our titles less confusing as we are all doctor now. It also ends the perception that surgeons are somehow superior to other specialties,” he told the Advertiser.

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