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Hi, I'm Tony Copperfield - Actual Doctor

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If and when I ever get around to writing volume three of my memoirs I have a working title in mind. It’s ‘Tony Copperfield - Actual Doctor’.

During one of the less-exciting Christmas and New Year afternoons I decided to flick through the pile of comics that had piled up by the sofa. A picture of James Robertson Justice in full on Sir Lancelot Sprat mode jumped out of the page (page 24 of the December 5th BMJ, to be exact) next to the headine ‘The title Doctor disrespects patients’.

The new Big Idea seems to be for us to introduce ourselves to patients as if we were out of work actors waiting tables at lunchtime

Bollocks. A more reasoned and cogent argument appeared at the foot of the page, penned by an actual patient. He claimed to be empowered, which is almost as bloody annoying as claiming to be an ‘expert patient’, but he wrote well. However, to save time I’m going to stick my original riposte. Bollocks.

Not too long ago it was easy to spot a doctor in a crowded hospital ward or outpatient clinic. He or she may have worn a white coat, carried a stethoscope that didn’t fall out of a Christmas cracker or had a Cuscoe’s speculum glinting in his pocket. And, and this is the important bit, colleagues would address our hero as ‘doctor’ or refer to them as ‘the doctor’ when chatting to patients and visitors.

When a doctor stood at the foot of the bed, the patient knew where they stood too.

The new Big Idea seems to be for us to introduce ourselves to patients as if we were out-of-work actors waiting tables at lunchtime: ‘Hello, I’m Tony and I’ll be looking after you today. I really think you ought to go with the pharmacist’s special. It’s tramadol with a side-order of furosemide served on a nest of stir-fried 14G catheters.’ At risk of repeating myself, bollocks.

The title ‘doctor’ doesn’t enjoy any particular legal status, unlike physician, dietician, dentist, surgeon or GP, but decades of common usage have defined it to mean exactly what every patient knows it means – someone with a medical degree or, at a pinch, a dental or veterinary qualification. Not a nurse. Not a physician’s assistant. Not a ward clerk. Not a physiotherapist. Not a phlebotomist. Not a pharmacist. Not a paramedic. Not, especially not, a sodding consultant upper limb function recovery specialist or whatever occupational therapists are calling themselves this month.

No, a doctor is a doctor. Even if the patient is a doctor. Even if the patient is a medically qualified doctor as opposed to someone who knocked out a 10,000-word dissertation on the mating habits of the northern hairy-nosed wombat at the University of Wollongong.

Anyway, it’ll never catch on. When people get properly ill, after they’ve shouted for Mummy and then realised that there’s very little chance that Mummy is an actual interventional cardiologist, they’ll shout for a doctor. An actual one.

Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex. You can follow him on Twitter @DocCopperfield

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Readers' comments (6)

  • Spot on as always Tony.
    Unfortunately, in what is left of the NHS, no one can hear you scream.

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  • Well noted,Tony.You highlighted a number of points in this blog.Firstly the systematic "knocking of doctors of their perches" by the removing of their badges of office eg the white coat and suitable other attire-shirt and tie in the case of men and the female equivalent in women,on the basis of infection risk? difficult to justify when checking studies on this with respect to regularly laundered garments.Secondly the encouragement of the explosion of experts now available in hospitals and increasingly in the community of people who we are told are more than capable of examination,diagnosis and treatment in spite of lack of clinical teaching/complimented I have to say by the absolute deafening silence coming from our hospital consultant colleagues in the last 10-15 yrs.Lastly the ascendency of the new hospital power base on a logarithmic growth curve- hospital managers who are trying to run hospitals on a Tescoesque business plan and in the process destroying the quality of inpatient care and the quality of,"the patient's journey through hospital" to paraphrase a much abused term- again associated with deafening silence from our hospital consultant colleagues a lot of whom are old enough to know better.At least before these current"improvement"(sic)patients knew who they were talking to!!

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  • made me laugh a lot, esp the last bit.
    thanks Doc!

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  • Hang on ; if we can get away with not being classed as doctors -we won't have to pay into the defense union protection racket . How much is the title worth anyway? I wouldn't mind being paid the same money for being a health operative if I didn't have to fork out £ 8000 . You could buy a gold stethoscope for that and really let them know who's boss. Get wiv de medical bling, man.

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  • Spot on! The trouble is that, in the name of saving money and, supposedly increasing efficiency (WTF?), everything's become incredibly blurred, it's a minefield composed of partially qualified people, (barely) able to write prescriptions and follow protocols. Bloody terrifying to my mind. I'm a nurse, a practice nurse, and I got my SRN from training in a large teaching hospital rather than going to some God-awful euphemersity. No not a nurse practitioner nor a prescribing nurse nor a nurse consultant, just a nurse and a jolly good one at that, well to my mind anyway. Back to basics I say.

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  • For those not familiar with Viz, euphemersity = "university", that was, not so long ago, a polytechnic or technical college.

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From: Copperfield

Dr Tony Copperfield is a jobbing GP in Essex with more than a few chips on his shoulder