What would you like to be called?

This question has become a fundamental of care.

This doesn’t mean it happens every time at every encounter; It should.

I remember my mum’s friend, C. expressing her disappointment that a nurse had called her C. and not Mrs S.

This was in the 90’s.

As a doctor it is sometimes hard to know what to call your patients and, taking this further, what you should call yourself.

Hello, I am Dr Kersh or, hello, I am Rod Kersh, your doctor. Or the infrequent, hello, I am doctor Rod.

Kate Granger taught us the importance of introduction; Hello My Name Is.

I even have the badge.

Yet, it isn’t always so straightforward.

Had Kate been my patient it is most likely we would have been on first-name terms; this is not how I relate to many of may patients. Age, I think is an element – if an individual is roundabout the same age or younger than me, I am much more likely to introduce myself with, ‘Hello, I am Rod Kersh, your doctor’. And subsequently use the patient’s first name, ‘How are you today Jake/David/Tom?’ As to whether Jake, David or Tom are happy with my calling them this is a separate issue; I think my approach is a quid pro quo – I give you my first name, I take yours.

Another element of this relates to older people, and I guess, this is more an issue if you are a female doctor (who, in our enlightened age, are often considered to be nurses in doctors clothing, rather than doctors.)

Hello, I am Dr Kersh, puts things in perspective.

It means, I am your doctor, I am here to help, I will do whatever I can to support, and, with this the clinical contract – first, I will do no harm, second, this is confidential and, third, well, If I don’t know, I’ll find someone who does.

This is a different relationship to friends, relatives or others and, how you might interact with your grocer, plumber or postman. Having said, that, you would expect to some extent many of the same principles – you don’t want the person in the shop to sell you food that will harm you and you don’t necessarily want them to broadcast that you’ve just bought, haemorrhoid ointment or, if they don’t have the relevant item, you would hope they will direct you to someone who might, ‘Try the chemist next door.’

Yes?

Complicating this further is culture.

Now, I am no cultural expert, although being Jewish, Scottish and living in England, I do have some insight into this. (I am part of other minorities, but I will not discuss them here!)

We know that a significant proportion of doctors (this applies to every profession in healthcare although I believe to a lesser extent) in the UK trained overseas; traditionally India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria and other places. (Up to 40 per cent in some areas). See here for an insight.

Queen Victoria and her empire had much to do with this and we can thank her forethought in helping the NHS to exist.

nhs nationalities

Yet, culturally, particularly in The East, there is a naming standard which differs from the West, in relation to what you are called. (To see how complicated this is and how little i understand, see here.)

In India my friends would likely call me ‘Kersh’ just as the folk at school used to say back in the day, ‘Hey, Kersh, pass the ball over here.’ With time and probably familiarity my name passed through multiple iterations (i.e. nicknames, none of which I will relate here!) although, mostly today, I am Rod, sometimes Roddie or Rodders, or if you don’t know me, Rodney, this latter getting my back up as it usually suggests you are trying to be informal with me but haven’t realised that you are being formal by not calling me what I want to be called.

Wow, that was confusing!

At other times I am called Rob, which I usually excuse as accent and volume can affect matters.

What is funnier, is the people who sold me my car call me, ‘Rodney,’ despite my telling them, ‘it’s Rod,’ they forget every time and it is back to Rodney. I guess this is what is on my driving license and their computer.

And this is the crux of the issue.

It is what I want you to call me that matters and not just that, but you remember what I have asked to be called.

Call me Ishmael. That is the start of Moby Dick, clearly, Herman Melville was on to something.

If I say, call me Ishmael and, every time you see me you call me ‘Isaac’ or ‘Ichabod’ either you haven’t a very good memory, or you didn’t care to listen the first time around, or, you are being obtuse and actively trying to make me feel bad.

(For those of you who have sat through all seven seasons of ‘Parks and Recreation’ this is brilliantly depicted in the character Garry/Jerry/Larry/Terry/Lenny played by Jim O’Heir.)

So, what should you call me, what should I call you?

When caring for someone with dementia we know this is a fundamental.

Get my name right!

In extreme situations, the person might query, ‘What is my name?’

I don’t know how most GPs keep track of the names of their patients – if you are in a practice is say, 13,000 people, this must be very difficult, if not impossible, unless you have a particular knack for names and faces.

Perhaps you could ask every patient when you first meet them, ‘What would you like to be called?’ Although, fundamental to this, it can only be asked once! Then include this detail on their electronic patient record;

Gerald, call me, Garry, not Jerry.

I admit, this might seem a little contrived, although unless your memory is eidetic, what can you do, and isn’t it better that your doctor follows the three principles outlined above rather than immersing themselves in mnemonics?

A certain teacher I know seems to remember the names of every parent in the school – I assume also the children, this I believe is more likely a trick of mnemos rather than photographic memory, hence, it makes me think, ‘When you see me, what absurd/inappropriate/obscene image is associated in your mind to facilitate the recollection?’

Just call me, Rod.

You can call me Kersh, or Dr Kersh or whatever, but you are less likely to get to my heart.

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4 comments

  1. I might suggest that the tone in which you say your name and then the patient’s name also adds into the mix.

    I totally agree with you that your own age and those patients your age and younger, might prefer to be called by their first name.

    70+ might prefer to be asked “Mrs Jones, may I call you Joyce?” (after introducing yourself as “I am Rod Kersh, your doctor” thereby bringing your own first name into the introduction prior to addressing them).

    I hate being addressed as Miss Alford at the ripe old age of 65 (but even worse as “Mrs’ when my file clearly states I am single. By calling me “Mrs” I usually think the doctor hasn’t read my paperwork, chart or health history at all, as happened one particular time, by a particularly arrogant, extremely rude new general practitioner.

    Having a poor short term memory problem, I invariably forget the nurse and/or doctor’s name immediately they say it in the local hospital E.R cubicle. And being extremely short-sighted (with only ‘distance glasses’) I can’t read their name tag/sign on their lapel.

    But I never ever forgot the soft kind compassionate tone of anyone’s voice I see or hear, when it comes to medical matters.

    And I never ever forget rude, critical uncompassionate harsh tones of any medical person. When I’m in severe pain or having surgery, I want compassion and a positive attitude.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Just ask , find out what feels comfortable, older people have lived long and know body language and what is genuine.
    Absurd etc? No way – more the person with the best special ‘ways ‘, to quote an earlier blog comment. ☺

    Liked by 1 person

  3. If I’m ill, I really don’t care what I’m called (within reason!) But for checkups and tests, and all other things I might see a doctor for, I would be really taken aback if they were to call me ‘Val’ which is how I’m known to friends and in my blogs, because I associate my full first name ‘Valerie’ with less personal interactions. However, one thing (and I don’t know if you’ve touched upon it in your blog at all) is that now I’ve reached the latter part of my sixties, I’ve noticed doctors (younger than myself, always), calling me ‘dear’, as if I’m some ancient and doddery creature who can’t do anything for herself, and I find that insulting. I know they mean well, but… it’s an area where there needs to be some education.

    So, I should call you Rod, here?

    Like

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