Posts Tagged ‘How to Address a Doctor’

  In our line of work we deal with numerous elected officials.  What is the proper address for a letter to a Mayor of a City who is also a practicing medical doctor?
             – Lisa in Temple, Texas

      How would I address a wedding invitation to a couple where the man is a physician and a Senator?  Which trumps which?  Dr. and Mrs. Ray Cleary or Senator and Mrs. Ray Cleary?
             – Tammy the Party Girl

Dear Lisa and Tammy:
  Officially, if you are writing to an elected official regarding their activities as an elected official, address him or her as an elected official … in these cases as acurrent mayor or retired senator.  If you are writing to him or her as your doctor, address as a doctor.
  Socially, being an elected official trumps being a Dr., so address the individual in the style of their elected office. Use the form for a current or former … which ever is appropriate.
       I give all the forms in my book — both for official correspondence and invitations.
       1) Both are The Honorable (Full Name) on the envelope on address block of a letter now and forever. 
       2) Former Senators continue to be addressed as Senator (Surname) in conversation and in a salutation.
       3) Current Mayors are addressed as Mayor (Surname) since being The Mayor is a one-at-a-time position and only the current Mayor can be The Mayor. BUT Former Mayors go back to whatever they were before being elected … so physicians would typically go back to Dr. (Surname) in conversation or in a salutation.
  All that said …. Bill Frist, former U.S. Senator from Tennessee was an MD, preferred to be addressed as “Dr. Frist” when he served in the United States Senate rather than “Senator Frist.” It was his personal preference, so people respected his preference, but other physicians followed the more traditional way and were addressed as The Honorable (Full Name) / Senator (Surname). There are probably a million doctors, but only 100 US Senators. But that was his choice.
       – Robert Hickey www.formsofaddress.info

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We have an appointed government official who as also received an honorary doctorate.  She wants to be addressed as Dr.
I’ve always been averse to the double honorific.  But to this person, it’s important.  (What can I tell you!)
So is it:
 The Honorable Dr. Mary Jones
Or is it:
  Dr. The Honorable Mary Jones?
— Anne Lesley

Dear Ms. Leslie:
      1.) In the USA courtesy titles are not used in combination with honorifics. We follow a simplified tradition of the person being just one thing at a time. (See note 3. below)
So she is: The Honorable Mary Jones
2.) If she wants to be addressed as Dr. then in a salutation or in conversation she’d be:
    Dr. Smith
 3.) I say “in the USA” because the British style is to include everything, so you come up with names like The Right Honourable General Ambassador Dr. Mary Jones, OBE, MP.
4.) Everyone is entitled to have their name be what they want it to be, But recipients of honorary doctorates are not entitled to be addressed as Dr. 
In the USA all honors and distinctions would be mentioned on a resume underhonors or noted in an introduction that she was a awarded a honorary doctorate etc.  
You can’t tell that to her of course, unless she asks your opinion, but she’s going to look either ignorant of the correct style (not good for a person holding a doctorate I’d say) — or pretentious if others know she’s asking to be addressed as Dr. when the degree is an honorary one.
– Robert Hickey www.formsofaddress.info

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I am a Veterinary Management Consultant. One of my pet peeves when dealing with clinic staff nowadays is their lack of professionalism when addressing each other, especially in front of clients. The use of cutesy nick-names, addressing veterinarians by their first names and using self-proclaimed (and often, inappropriate) nicknames seems to give a very bad impression. I’m looking for some back up on my stance to show staffers who think I’m just being picky. Do you have anything on this subject? Your help would be appreciated.
   — Talbot James

Dear Mr. James:
My precedents are more medical than veterinary, but the issues are exactly the same.
Regarding calling the veterinarian “Dr” … At hospitals & in doctor’s offices physicians are addressed as Dr. (Name) so patients will know which person in the room is the physician.
It also informs the patient of how to address the doctor.
So … it’s an issue of clarity rather than an issue of formality.
Regarding use of formal names rather than first or nick names … anytime one is on a first-name basis with someone who merits a special form of address(Doctor, Mayor, Senator, Dean, etc.), one should address him/her formally (e.g. as Dr. Surname) in front of others who are not on a first-name basis with him/her.  Thus, while the staff might call the veterinarian by first name back stage … they should useDr. (Name) in front of clients/patients, or in this case pet owners.
Regarding other clinical staff … nurses are often addressed by first name … or first name and last initial.  I have a Q&A on the “Nurse” page on why first-name-only for nurses makes sense for security reasons. See Karen Hickman’s on addressing a letter to a nurse whose name badge only had her first name on it.  Her comment is at the end of How to Address Someone In Writing When They Only Have Their First Name on Their Name Badge?
While a pharmacist, hospital administrator, or nurse may also have a doctorate …. it is confusing to the patient to address them as “Dr.” in the clinical environment. It’s not because their degrees are not respected; they are.
        Regarding nick names …. a person’s name is what they say it is. When it is their preference to be addressed as Cupcake, Snookie, or whatever, it does not set a formal tone. Some would say it makes the individual look childish … but I don’t think you can tell someone they can’t use the name the prefer.
        – Robert Hickey www.formsofaddress.info

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In our line of work we deal with numerous elected officials.  What is the proper salutation and address for a letter to a Mayor of a City who is also a practicing medical doctor?
– Lisa in Temple, Texas

Dear Lisa:
Being Mayor trumps being a Doctor.
Address him as the mayor
Once he’s out of office he will revert to be Dr. (Name), former Mayor of Temple, Texas.
The custom in the US is to address someone in the manner which is pertinent to the conversation … and to give a person just one rank or honorific at a time. So if you are addressing him as the Mayor, address him as a Mayor.
All that said …. Bill Frist, former Senator from Tennessee was an MD and asked to be addressed as “Dr. Frist” when he served in the United States Senate rather than “Senator Frist.” It was his personal preference, so people respected his preference, but other physicians in the Senate followed the more traditional way.
– Robert Hickey www.formsofaddress.info

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When addressing a letter to a dentist and his wife, do you use Dr. and Mrs. John H. Smith, DDS or either the Dr. or the DDS?  I appreciate your help.
— Debra Kowanetz

Dear Debra:
I cover this in my book’s chapter on “Professionals and Academics”.
If you are addressing a letter to a dentist and his wife … it is probably a social letter.  Post-nominals are not used on social correspondence.
An official/professional letter to his office would be:
John H. Smith, DDS
A social letter to his home would be:
Dr. John H. Smith
joint social letter would be:
Dr. and Mrs. John H. Smith
– Robert Hickey www.formsofaddress.info


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My brother (Erwin Wright) and sister-in-law (Monica Vintner) write their names asWright and Vintner on the return address. She has kept her maiden name and also has a PhD in academia. What is the correct way to address them on invitations (formal and informal), as well as holiday or anniversary cards?
— M. Torres

Dear M. Torres:
The formal social form would be (following the rules in etiquette books) to put Monica first since she’s “Dr.” and that has a higher precedence than a “Mr.”  Partners with special honorifics (doctorates, military ranks, etc.) are most formally listed first in joint forms of address:
Dr. Monica Vintner
and Mr. Erwin Wright
3333 Smith Court
Henderson, OH 44444
But — you are using this on family social cards. Hummm. Since they list themselves “Wright and Vintner” on their return address — they have established that to be their casual preference.  For casual correspondence I’d use it and address the envelope as:
Wright and Vintner
3333 Smith Court
Henderson, OH 44444
And inside write “Dear Monica and Erwin”
– Robert Hickey www.formsofaddress.info


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How should one address a note of thanks for services rendered by a medical professional, such as a person ranked MD, RN, or CNA, whose name badge gives only the person’s first name and surname initial? I ask because my mother, who is elderly and as of today is receiving hospice care, recently spent several grueling weeks in a local hospital, and has asked that I express her gratitude to the medical personnel who attended her with outstanding kindness and compassion.
I know her main physicians’ surnames, but most of the medical team revealed only their first names and last name initials, such as Beth M., RN or Bob M., CNA on their badges. This reminds me of elementary school, when we children were required to head our papers with only our given names and surname initials. That was appropriate for young children with emerging manual dexterity in a small classroom, but I do not understand how it makes sense in a professional setting, unless the personnel involved fear legal retribution, such as malpractice suits, and thus wish to hide their true identities.
Please advise me on how to address these semi-anonymous professionals, who hold their patients’ lives in their hands but will not reveal their full identifies.
— Taylor Stuart

Dear Taylor Stuart:
All you can do is to follow the lead of the individual … and address it to the name you have:
Beth M., RN
Surgical Recovery Unit
Wilson County Hospital
4455 Smith Road
City, State, ZIP

Dear Beth,

But to get a more thoughtful answer, I asked an expert on etiquette and professional polish in the medical arena — Karen Hickman of Professional Courtesy, LLC — (who is a graduate of The Protocol School of Washington) for her take on it:
I agree with your response, but would like to add a couple more points. The primary reasons medical personnel list first names only is for security reasons, but also because nurses are authorized to phone in prescriptions for physicians and there is less chance for a clever patient to call in medications using the nurses full name.
Also, if the patient has an established relationship with the facility there is a chance that a manager or supervisor would share last names.
Speaking from personal experience, from my nursing days, cards and notes of gratitude are always so appreciated from care givers. Any gifts, like candy or other food items should be sent to the team since ethically, nurses and physicians are discouraged from accepting personal gifts.
Karen: I learned something from you today (no surprise!). Thank you!

– Robert Hickey www.formsofaddress.info

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