Why are dentists called doctors?

I have recently been reflecting on the feeling of value and respect. While pharmacists provide vital patient care, our contributions are often overlooked. In order to feel valued and respected and fully acknowledge our significant role within healthcare, it is necessary to bridge gaps in public understanding. This is evident when we compare ourselves to dentists, who are frequently referred to as doctors. However, the question arises: why are dentists called doctors?

Upon exploring the origins of this designation, I found that dentists earned this title based on their diagnostic and therapeutic capabilities. Dentists diagnose and treat dental issues independently, implying that they possess the knowledge and skills of a physician, which is why they are referred to as doctors.

However, pharmacists’ expertise has significantly broadened over the last decade; we are increasingly becoming prescribers, and very soon, all pharmacists will have this capability. Does it not, therefore, makes sense for us to be treated the same way as dentists, with respect and recognition for our skills and expertise? Such recognition is critical to enhance our profession’s importance in the healthcare sector.

Travelling to Egypt as a pharmacist was a humbling experience. Egyptians have a tradition of referring to pharmacists as “doctors”, based on the belief that pharmacists act as medicine experts and offer medical advice to the public. I felt valued and respected.

In Indian rural areas, pharmacists are often the first point of contact for patients and provide medical treatment where doctors are limited or not available. Due to their essential role in providing medical care, the title of “doctor” has been used interchangeably with “pharmacist” as a sign of respect.

Closer to home, in Spain, pharmacists enjoy respect as essential healthcare professionals due to the strict regulations and rigorous training they undergo. They possess expert knowledge and provide advice on medication management and minor ailments. However, this is not the case in the UK, where the healthcare system is more fragmented. Despite making the same essential contributions, due to the different entities involved in healthcare, pharmacists are somehow not seen as central to the system.

Let me clarify that we do want to replace doctors, nor dentists. Neither am I asking that all pharmacists be called doctors, I am simply seeking a future where pharmacists receive appropriate compensation and a society wherein pharmacists receive acknowledgment and recognition and feel valued and respected.

Shilpa Patel

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, May 2024, Vol 312, No 7985;312(7985)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2024.1.313316

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