How to Address Peers

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

Sometimes, I feel a little bit like Miss Manners.  There are all sorts of unwritten rules of etiquette in veterinary medicine.  For example, did you know that faculty don’t refer to each other as “Dr.” outside of medicine?  I’ve written about how to address people during an interview, but I’ve been thinking, “How do we decide how to address each other once we’re in a position?”  Here is my opinion, and it’s 100% just that, borne from experience observing other human beings in veterinary medicine and what *I* think is best.

Is this person the Dean?  If so, they are addressed as Dean Lastname or Dr. Lastname.  An exception may be made if you are also in a Dean position or higher.

Is this person in a higher level administrative position than you?  If so, they are addressed as Dr. Lastname.  For example, when you talk to your department head, to the hospital director, to the Associate Dean for Research, use Dr. Lastname.  An exception may be made if there is no one else around and you knew the person as a faculty peer before they became an administrator.

Are residents/interns/students around?  If so, use Title Lastname.  For example, if you’re in rounds and referring to what a different faculty said, say “I know Dr. Smith does things this way, and that’s OK.”  If you are in the OR and there are residents, when you check in with the surgeon about the case, “Dr. Smith, how are things going in there?”  Some people will just use Lastname alone, “Smith, how are things going in there?”  I think this is probably OK.  Don’t use first names when trainees are around.

Otherwise, use first names.  Faculty are peers and should treat each other accordingly.  It isn’t BAD if you address people as Dr. Lastname, it’s just unnecessary.  I tend to see more older faculty use Dr. Lastname when they refer to another faculty member in, for example, a department meeting.  So either is acceptable.  I prefer to use first names when it’s only faculty around to create a greater sense of community and cohesiveness to the professional culture.

I don’t want to be as prescriptive as Miss Manners.  Some of this will vary by your institution.  At one institution where I worked, EVERYONE used first names when I first got there.  It gave a significant air of unprofessionalism which I worked to improve upon.  Interpret these as my suggestions rather than rules.  What do you think?  Is this how your institution runs?

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