Should PhDs refer to themselves as 'doctors'?

While traditional MDs or DOs are typically referred to as "doctors," should scientists with PhDs refer to themselves in the same fashion?

Biologist Adam Ruben, PhD, told WHYY Radio he once decided to refer to himself as "doctor" after a flight mishap to hold the airline accountable and receive a refund. He said the incident got him thinking about when or if individuals with PhDs should refer to themselves as "doctors."

Dr. Ruben said he informally polled his colleagues and friends on social media to hear their thoughts on the issue.

"A surprising number of people all had the same concern about using the term doctor: if they were going to be on an airplane when somebody needs a doctor," Dr. Ruben said.

Epidemiologist Beth Linas, PhD, said scientists with doctorate degrees should be able to call themselves "doctor" if they choose to, as the moniker adds another layer of authority, especially for women and others who are underrepresented in their fields.

"[If] someone comes up [to me] on the street and says hello to me, they can address me as Beth, but if I'm being called upon for my background in infectious disease, epidemiology or digital health, which is the other area that I study, I think I should be recognized as Dr. Beth Linas," she told WHYY.

"There are a lot of women, and particularly women of color that really struggle to make their way in science and stay in science, and we face a lot of obstacles, and I think it's important for women also to be recognized," she added.

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