DrJDR posed me this question in a comment to a post that I made earlier in the week
I wonder what you think about the whole 'first names' question? That is, should
you (the doctor) introduce yourself by your first name - such as 'My name is
James, I'm a forensic psychiatrist'? I remember being told off in an exam for
doing this kind of thing, and since then I've always been very careful not to
use my first name and stick to surname - ie 'my name is Dr Blunt' (well it isn't
really, of course). I think that this does set the professional boundaries very
clearly which I think is important for patients. I used to constantly cringe
when hearing young nursing staff / assistants breezily addressing sick old men
and women on their first meeting by using their first names. I always thought
this inappropriate, and personally I would not like to be called by my first
name by someone I had never met. Professionalism in medicine as a whole is
something which has really suffered, and which I think we need to keep going.
Patients expect us to act in a professional manner, and when we do this gives
them confidence in us.
To be honest, I have no hard and fast rules about which title I use to introduce myself. I’ve used “Michael,” “Dr Anderson” and even “Dr Michael Anderson” depending on what seems most appropriate at the time. I have to say that my “default” when introducing myself to an adult or late adolescent is “Dr Anderson,” but I do vary it – yesterday's post for an example.
When addressing patients, I tend to use their full names to start with and then I’ll use their surnames for the rest of the conversation, unless they tell me otherwise. So, generally, it goes something this:
“Good afternoon, is it Amy King?”
“Yes, it is.”
“Pleased to meet you, my name is Dr Anderson, I’ll be the anaesthetic doctor for your operation later on today. Is it Miss or Mrs King?”
“Mrs, but please call me Amy”
Patients are frequently extremely anxious when I see them pre-operatively and you’re right, that professionalism and good communication are incredibly important.
With children, especially young children, I do tend to use first names more, but again, this is no hard and fast rule, and I'll often use surnames with children as well. It depends on the child.
At the end of the day, part of my aim is to try and make the person I'm talking to feel as comfortable as I can using whichever names I feel fits the situation best. It seems to work pretty well for me, but no doubt there's occasions where I've got it wrong and no doubt, I'll get it wrong in the future, after all, every person is different.
I do call patients “dear” or “my dear” occasionally, (yes, I know we’re not supposed to) but again, I’ll do this only when I feel it’s appropriate and certainly not until I’d built up a relationship with the person that I’m speaking to.