Doc Savage
Would he have been as popular if he’d been plain ol’ Mr Savage? “Doc Savage #1: The Man of Bronze“. Cover art by James Bama. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.

I’ve had to face a difficult decision in the last few months.

You see, it’s always been a disappointment to me that, unlike many of our overseas colleagues, UK veterinary surgeons have long languished under the tedious titles of Mrs, Miss or Mr. Not only do these old-fashioned prefixes call upon our clients to make a snap judgement on whether we’re married or not, they are, I submit, simply not as sexy as “doctor”.

It’s possible I read too many pulpy novels as a boy, but somehow I feel “Mr Savage” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as “Doc”.

We’re professionals, of course. Sexy shouldn’t really enter into it, even for someone like me who unashamedly wears his stethoscope around his neck in a misguided attempt to look cool.

In fact, there are those in our profession who will try to argue the boring vanilla title is right and proper. Human surgeons are known by them, after all – it’s something of a badge of honour for them to go from Dr to Mr, and is a right granted them by the Royal College of Surgeons.

“Well,” say the misguided (and slightly less cool) vets of the UK. “We’re surgeons too, aren’t we? So we should be Mr or Mrs too.”

I disagree – for three reasons:

  1. Human surgeons undergo an enormous amount more expert training than veterinary surgeons. Years and years more, in fact – so if they want to call themselves Mrs, I think they’re quite entitled to. Let’s not pretend as general practitioners we’re on a level with them.
  2. As vets, we never got called “doctor” at any stage of our training. This means it doesn’t feel so much like a promotion as a, uh, nothing at all.
  3. I think I’d be more on board with it if surgeons had an entirely different title. Something like… I don’t know… Powerman/woman? That would work. I could cope with being Powerman Marsh.

Anyway, this particular powerman has strayed from the point a little. As you are all no doubt aware, a couple of months ago, the RCVS decided vets are now entitled to use the title “doctor”, although with a couple of caveats:

Nick Marsh
Dr Nick Marsh MRCVS: the sort of vet who unashamedly wears his stethoscope around his neck in a misguided attempt to look cool.
  • When we use it in full we should add “MRCVS” after our name, to signify we are members of the Royal College and not actually licensed to poke about inside another human being (well, not with surgical instruments, at least).
  • It’s a courtesy title – it’s up to us whether we use it or not.

When I heard the news, this last point threw me into a dilemma – was it really that important, I wondered, to be called doctor?

Throughout my career, clients have occasionally started a consultation with a “Well, what it is, doc, is that…” – and on those rare occasions when I would point out the title wasn’t one I had been granted, I would do it with a bashful grin (and possibly even come-to-bed eyes) that indicated I was not at all unhappy about being accidentally promoted, and it always gave me a little thrill.

But now the option was there, suddenly I was worried. Did I really deserve the title?

My previous point about training isn’t just true of surgeons. It’s a fallacy that it takes as long to train as a vet than as a doctor – the veterinary degree takes five years, just as the medical degree does, but then medical doctors have at least another two years of on-the-job training before they are fully qualified. Vets are just thrown in at the deep end.

Also, I considered the fact that a new prefix before my name wouldn’t make me any better at my job. I have been a veterinary surgeon for 15 years and a change in my title wouldn’t alter my experience, my skills, or my simple honest-to-goodness dashing good looks.

A courtesy title. It was a choice. If I actually changed it, would it just make me appear vain? Would my colleagues consider me so? Would there be two tiers of vets now (those who were secure in their own skills, and those who needed something more)? A veterinary surgeon, by any other name, would still smell of anal glands and hibiscrub, after all.

Dr Nick
Dr Nick“. Via Wikipedia.

This was a decision, I realised, that required careful, considered thought…

Thirty microseconds later I was logging into the RCVS website and ticking a box on my profile that indicated now, and forever more, I would be known as “Doctor Nick Marsh MRCVS”.

Such decisions come at a cost. Households have been split on the issue. My wife, for instance – also a vet – remains plain old Mrs Marsh. However, this has less to do with any high-minded ethical stance and more to do with the fact she has forgotten her login details for the website.

As for myself, I find my change in status has left me much the same person, and indeed veterinary surgeon, I always was – but with one added bonus: whenever I enter a room with friends and say “Hi everybody”, I am met with a return chorus of “Hi Doctor Nick!”

Thank you, The Simpsons. You’ve made me a very happy man.

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