Bloody Well Write

July 13, 2009

Academic degrees: Is there a doctor in the house?

Those fancy initials at the end of your doctor’s name make your doc seem more valid somehow, more intelligent, don’t they? They make you trust your physician more than if you were talking colon issues or dermatological concerns with, say, your best friend’s kid brother. Well, your doctor had to put forth a lot of effort to get those little tagalong letters at the end of his or her name (in most cases, anyway). Universities made a pretty penny off of those med students, and many a textbook had coffee stains on them while your physician was struggling to get through med school.

But wait. What about the Ph.D., M.A. and B.G.S. recipients who are not medical doctors? They, too, lost countless hours of sleep cramming for exams, just so they could add a couple of cool letters to their names. (OK, so that’s not the only reason they went to school, but you get the drift for this discussion.) Somehow, though, these folks often get mocked for trying to tag their academic degrees to their names in any public forum — which, in my opinion, is too bad. They worked just as hard for their degrees — no matter that it was in history or English or mathematics — so why shouldn’t they get the recognition, as well?

Regardless, the preferred way to mention someone’s credentials is not with abbreviations, but with a phrase, such as Dr. Sarah Sneed, a marine biologist or Dr. Evil, a mad scientist; the added language offers more description and less pomp. Sometimes, pomp is plenty good. And sometimes, pomp is just annoying. Use discretion.

One of my favorite "doctors"

One of my favorite "doctors"

The AP Stylebook recommends using abbreviations only when mentioning several people at the same time, making a phrase that describes each person’s credentials cumbersome. At that point, use the degree only at the end of the recipient’s full name on the first mention and drop it on subsequent mentions. Remember to set the degree off with commas:

• Marcus Welby, M.D.
• Bob Smith, Ph.D., presented his lecture. Dr. Smith received a round of applause.
• Dr. Sarah Sneed, a marine biologist, is a vegetarian.
• Oh, to write like the author Dr. Seuss — my writing, I fear, is much too loose.
• In attendance were Bill Black, Ph.D., Sherri White, M.A., Todd Green, D.D.S., and Erin Plum, M.D.

Note that when a title comes at the beginning of the person’s name, the degree does not follow. It’s Dr. Sarah Sneed, not Dr. Sarah Sneed, M.D.

I, by the way, am no doctor. I would’ve liked to have played one on TV, though.

Happy trails!


Create a free website or blog at