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Doctor Penny Lane: I Earned It

You've certainly heard about the now infamous letter from Joseph Epstein, printed in the Wall Street Journal, calling out our soon-to-be First Lady Dr. Jill Biden as having used her title fraudulently. He seems confused by the title, ignorantly assuming this is just a synonym for #physician and not in fact, an indication of the level of academic education one has obtained in any profession.

Epstein doesn't simply question her use of the earned title though, he attempts to shame and belittle her. In fact, he calls her use of her title comical. Epstein addresses her as "kiddo," and then asks, "any chance you might drop the 'Dr.' before your name?"

What is laughable, even ludicrous, is that while Dr. Biden completed a dissertation and earned her #doctorate, Epstein was provided an honorary doctorate while having only earned a bachelor's degree. He admits to feeling like a fraud when occasionally referred to as a doctor within the academic arena. This imposter syndrome though isn't because he failed to complete the rigorous requirements of a terminal degree; rather, he feels that only physicians should be allowed to use this title. His lack of medical school training is the alleged cause of his so-called uneasiness.

Consider the Bigger Picture Here

Ignorance aside, as this is too easy a facade to hide behind, let's look at the real issue here. Although Epstein has no personal testimony to the demands required of a doctoral candidate, the bulk of his article argues that today's doctorate is rather elementary and really very little more than a walk in the park. He even claims that back in the good-ole-days one had to learn Greek or Latin prior to obtaining their doctorate degree - you know, back when women and people of color were not allowed to pursue higher education.

Dr. Jill Biden holds a PhD in education. It is true, she doesn't deliver babies as part of her expertise, which Epstein holds as the bar for utilization of the title "doctor," but I do. In fact, I've attended a few thousand births and have also earned my doctoral degree, yet I am still frequently accused of using my title in a misleading or fraudulent manner.

If we consider the application of using the title doctor after having earned this achievement just among those with clinical doctorates, we can appreciate that dentists, chiropractors, veterinarians, otologists, podiatrists, and audiologists are all doctors. They each practice clinically and for as long as we've all had awareness, these professionals have utilized the title "doctor." Consider too, that not one of these professionals are trained to deliver babies within their expertise and yet, no mass confusion has ensued.

Think about it, are you familiar with anyone having booked an appointment with a dentist who expected to have their appendix removed? People are not ignorant to this title. We know that doctors are specialists, not simply physicians. We know doctors practice in academia and also in healthcare. We even know that doctors within healthcare each have their own expertise and their own limitations. The doctor delivering my baby is not the same doctor who I'd ask to pull my tooth! Even the widely respected cardiologist or neurosurgeon is likely to take a seat in the delivery room.

Maybe the controversy surrounding the use of the title "doctor" is not really about what so many try to portray? Maybe Epstein's argument, similar to the argument of many medical physicians, is not that consumers or constituents may become confused; maybe this isn't at all about misrepresentation or deception. Maybe this argument is really more about sexism and misogyny?

If we're being honest here, can we deny the irony in the current First Lady Melania Trump having posted nude, rather salaciously, and yet society protects and supports her but our soon-to-be First Lady Dr. Jill Biden is criticized for being too educated before having even stepped into her new role in the White House? Do I even need to mention the controversy surrounding Kamala Harris? Are we really ready for women to step into positions of power? Are we ready for fields such as nursing, which are overwhelmingly dominated by women, to assume leadership positions in healthcare? Are we ready for a woman to step into the White House and finally demand the respect she deserves, like any man would be offered with her same credentials, without question?

Nurses who have earned a doctorate degree are the only healthcare professionals who receive criticism for using their earned title. A number of states have even created laws to prohibiting nurses, exclusively, from using their earned title. This is not about a nurse's ego or even the fear they will misrepresent themselves as physicians or confuse the public. This is about the fear that male physicians are going to lose control of previously subservient female nurses and that powerful men in the White House are going to walk shoulder to shoulder with highly educated women who are certain to challenge them.

Together, we will build a world where the accomplishments of our daughters will be celebrated rather than dismissed. - Dr. Jill Biden

Many are deeply offended by the article published in the Wall Street Journal and are terminating their subscriptions. This controversy exploded over Twitter and Facebook. Demands for the journal to retract this piece and fire its opinion editor have been forged. You know the drill. If you have daughters, do what is right for them. Speak up. Demand better.

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Feb 21, 2022

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Dr. Penny Lane
Dr. Penny Lane
Dec 27, 2020

A great response from Dr. Schade:

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