Did you know that your vet is now a doctor? The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons has just changed the rules. Vets are not obliged to call themselves “Doctor”, but we now have the option to do so, if we wish.
Traditionally, vets were called “Mr”: the logic was that as “veterinary surgeons”, we fell into the same (slightly superior) category of medical personnel as medical consultant surgeons, who were also “Mr”. Dentists (dental surgeons) were also called “Mr” for the same reason.
In the past thirty years, two factors have moved against this traditional nomenclature.
The veterinary profession has been feminised.
In the 1960’s, over 80% of veterinary graduates were male. The gender ratio moved to 50:50 in the 1980’s, and it’s now changed so that a high majority of new graduates are female, 57% of the total profession in practice are female. Why is this relevant to the “doctor” issue? Well, “Mr” may be a handy title for male vets, but there’s a dilemma for females: there’s an awkward choice between Miss (“young and single?”), Mrs (“married”) or Ms (“feminist?”). The term “Dr” is gender neutral, which suits our politically correct era.
Most vets around the world are “doctors”
The second, and probably more significant, reason for change in terminology is to keep the UK within international norms. In nearly every other country in the world, vets are known as “Dr”. So when British vets travel overseas, it causes mild consternation if they try to stick to the “Mr” title from home. And when foreign vets visit the UK, they naturally expect to be called “Dr”, leading to some confusion for members of the public (“Are they better qualified than British vets?”)
Vets, vet nurses and the public voted for vets to be doctors
The decision to change to “Dr” was democratic: the RCVS carried out a consultation process, receiving the opinions of over 11000 people, 74% from vets, vet students and veterinary nurse, and 26% from the public. Overall, 81% were in favour of vets becoming “doctors”, 13% were against, and 6% did not mind either way.
The RCVS has placed some stipulations about how vets use the term “Dr”, to avoid the risk of misleading people about our qualifications. The two possible misapprehensions are first, that we have earned a doctorate (PhD), and second, that we are medical doctors. To avoid the risk of this happening, vets have to do one of two things. First, add the word “Veterinary Surgeon” as a post-script to our names (“Dr Pete Wedderburn, Veterinary Surgeon”) or second, add our post-nominal letters our names (“Dr Pete Wedderburn MRCVS”). This is a clear way of defining that we are “vet doctors” rather than “doctorate doctors” or “doctor doctors”. I’m sure it seems like trivial stuff to most members of the public, but to those folk who are concerned about these details, it’s very important to get it right. And it is important, that when people consult a professional, whether online or in person, that they have a correct understanding of that individual’s qualifications.
I never thought I’d be a doctor, but all of a sudden, I’ve become one without even trying. A doctor, veterinary surgeon, or a doctor, MRCVS, that is, of course.