Gary Stadtmauer, MD, Allergy & Clinical Immunology, 07:38PM May 8, 2013
It happens every now and then and it always takes me by surprise. A new patient, often someone much younger than me, comes in to my office, sits down and blurts out: "Hi, Gary" I am usually so stunned that I say nothing for a couple of seconds. I have to admit that I do not otherwise immediately voice my displeasure in part because I do not want to introduce tension into the encounter. I do not know exactly why some patients do this. Any title commands a certain degree of respect but also is a recognition on some level that the parties are not entirely equal. Perhaps that is an uncomfortable situation for some people. Or maybe they were on a first-name basis with another doctor and they are more at ease with physicians on a first name basis. There are probably more reasons.
I believe though that most patients prefer to call the doctor by that title. The title is acknowledgement of the professional's specialized training (and hopefully expertise) and that is precisely what the patient is seeking. Also the patient divulging private, delicate health matters would probably feel safer discussing it with Dr. Smith than Bob. It's not to say that the medical relationship should be very formal but it needs to start out as respectful just as we were all taught in medical school to use the patients proper names (never call the 82 year old by her first name unless she requests it).
There are some doctors who are more comfortable going by their first name since they feel that it fosters a more trusting relationship with the patient but that is a controversial position. A simple compromise would be to use the title doctor in front of the first name if someone prefers. My last name is challenging so my staff simply calls me Dr. Gary. For pediatric patients I usally introduce myself that way as well. Come to think of it, the next time a patient strolls in and says "Hi Gary" I think I will just say you can use my first name but please, call me doctor.