Should Patients Call You by Your First Name?

Roxanne Nelson, RN, BSN


December 26, 2018

In This Article

Are the Old Rules Dead?

It's a first visit with your new patient, and all is going well. He makes eye contact, appears to be paying close attention as you discuss his cholesterol levels, and readily agrees to a follow-up appointment. And then he says something that stops you in your tracks.

"Okay, Bob," he says cheerfully, as he shakes your hand. "I'll see you in 3 months."

The smile freezes on your face as you digest this brief interaction. How on earth did you suddenly get on a first-name basis with your patient? And with a nickname, no less!

The rules of engagement have certainly changed in the 21st century. In society as a whole, people and relationships have been getting steadily less formal. In many companies, men have shed the suits and ties in favor of khakis and polo shirts—and not just on Casual Fridays. In neighborhoods from Portland, Maine, to Portland, Oregon, kids call their friends' parents by their first name. It's no surprise, then, that this level of informality has crossed over into the medical suite.

Developing a good rapport with a patient is essential, and what transpires during a first meeting can set the stage for the ongoing relationship. But unfortunately, there are no definitive guidelines on how physicians and other providers should be addressed, how patients prefer to be addressed, or how staff should introduce themselves. Aside from a few small studies, published data remain scant.

According to the literature that is available, some patients have indicated that they prefer that their doctors call them by their first name—although others will bristle at the thought of it, especially if they're old enough to be your grandmother. (No one called Marcus Welby by his first name!)

But what about you, as the physician? Do you mind if your patients don't address you with a formal title and instead call you by your given name? Or use that compromise of "Dr + First Name?"


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