Saturday, March 20, 2010

When is a Doctor not a Doctor?

Answer: When he's a surgeon.

In Grasp a Nettle, Jenny 'Not Dickens' Wren twits Eduard about being a doctor. He gets mildly huffy:
"My dear girl...I'm a surgeon. You, a nurse, should know the difference."
"Well, of course I do," she was a little impatient. "I didn't know you were so fussy about a little thing like that."
The Professor made a small choking sound. "There is a considerable difference ---" he be cut short by her:
"Oh, don't be so stuffy!"
The only response to that is a swoop and a kiss...

He sort of contradicts himself a few pages later:
"One should drink plenty in this heat. Doctor's advice."
"But you're not a doctor - you're a surgeon, you said so."
"Ah yes - so I did. I'm a modest man; I tend to hide my light under a bushel. I do happen to be a doctor of medicine..."

Can't we all just get along?


  1. Some of this has to do with weird British (and to some extent U.S.) history of medicine. A couple hundred years ago surgeons were at the bottom of the heap in the medical world--they were treated as technicians (or sorta like car mechanics). If one wanted to be in medicine but couldn't make the grade (or too poor) you were stuck with being a surgeon (they seemed to be alcoholics frequently--not sure the connection but doesn't seem to engender trust). Remember surgery was, to put it mildly, rather crude in those days. Until the early twentieth century, physicians (and surgeons) were squarely middle class or even less (check your latest doctor bill--not so today). Physicians dealt with not-genteel things like dead bodies and bodily functions.

    In Neels time in the U.K., a practicing G.P. was "Dr.," but if one became a surgeon (after several years of training at Royal College-level) he reverted back to "Mr."--but a badge of status this time--even though may also hold a Doctor of Medicine degree. Her doctors are usually consultants with foreign degrees but granted consultant status in the U.K.(not easy--so they had to be super smart and experienced).

    Wow, how boring is that? ZZzzzz

  2. Did you already know all that, or did you swot it up just for us? I'm impressed either way.

  3. I always knew the ol' grad degrees would come in handy someday (oh, whom am I fooling?--all useful knowledge comes from British murder mysteries).

  4. Oh, but Betty JoDee, you left off the best part: Surgeons are called "Mr." in the UK because back in the olden days they were barbers. Yes, really -- 'shave & a haircut two bits' as a day job and then slice & dice when needed. Most surgical patients died, so not an honorable profession.

    But then, strangely, surgeons got GOOD and had significantly better mortality & morbidity statistics, and (of course) developed the "surgeon personality" (not Betty Neels's surgeons, but other less saintly practitioners of the scalpel-wielding arts can be a tad arrogant, ne-c'est pas?), so they kept their status as "only mister" because that became wierdly exclusive. Any proctologist could be a doctor, but only a SURGEON (cue the choir of angels) was a MISTER.

    (I was pre-med in college before drifting into, and then out of, philosophy and eventually law school. My mother called doctors "the medical mafia.")

  5. I would prefer a little Mister-Doctor hybridization. Mister is a mite too informal for someone about to see your innards...