‘Dr.’ style

ManReadingNewspaperPeople who have earned MDs (and British equivalents), PhDs, DVMs, DDSs, ScDs, DCs, JDs and other similarly advanced academic credentials all want to be called “doctor,” with the accompanying “Dr.” honorific or courtesy title.

But publications — daily newspapers, professional magazines and journals — have different policies on who is entitled to the “Dr.” title, with the result that some people feel hard done by when they’re left out.

In mid-December, Kathy English, the Toronto Star’s public editor, published that paper’s policy. She was prompted by a complaint from a reader who holds a doctorate of education and saw that his “Dr.” was omitted from his letter to the editor.

According to the Star’s style guide, “Dr.” is reserved for physicians, dentists and veterinarians, English said.

But, she noted, that’s in contrast to the stylebook of The Canadian Press, the guide that most newsrooms in Canada follow and use to develop their own house style.

CP style holds that “Dr.” should be used for all licensed health-care professionals — which, in Ontario at any rate, includes physicians, dentists and veterinarians, as well as chiropractors, psychologists, optometrists and podiatrists.

The Star and CP agree that, when applicable, “Dr.” should be included only when it’s relevant to the subject at hand. English cited the example of Dr. Eric Hoskins, a physician who is Ontario’s Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Employment. The Star would use the “Dr.” honorific for him only if the story deals with health or medicine, but not in his current ministerial capacity.

Style decisions are made to provide clarity for readers and consistency in the publication. The Medical Post, a newspaper for physicians where I was on staff for 31 years, calls everyone “Dr.” who has a doctoral-level degree. But when not attached to a medical doctor, the actual degree is given in parentheses following first mention of the person’s name so it’s clear to readers what kind of doctor is being quoted.~TM

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