I recently became aware that, when writing an article, my university's communications office reserves the prefix "Dr" for only those individuals with MD degrees.

For example, if Jane Smith holds a PhD, an article published through this office would state, "Jane Smith researches memory..." instead of "Dr Jane Smith researches memory" or "Jane Smith, PhD, researches memory". But if Jane holds an MD, the statement would be written, "Dr Jane Smith researches memory."

The communication office's response to this is that "Dr" is most often associated with medical doctors; also, the AP guide recommends this approach.

First, is this a phenomenon in other institutions? I am at a large public university in the US, for reference. Second, the office may be correct that "Dr" is associated most with physicians, but does anyone have a citation for that? Third, I couldn't find this in the AP guide--any hints on where to look?

  • What is "AP guide" in this context?
    – mdd
    Mar 29 '17 at 19:47
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    It's the Associated Press Stylebook, which is a common guide to usage for journalists in the U.S. I'd bet the issue here is that the communications office thinks in terms of journalism, where it's not common to use "Dr." for anyone but physicians. Mar 29 '17 at 19:56
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    The AP guide is commercial, so you'd have to buy access or get it through your institution perhaps, but this reading of the AP guide is supported in other places I've found: editdesk.wordpress.com/2009/02/25/doctor-style I'd rather a direct quotation/citation from the guide itself, but I don't have it. Here's the direct source for the guide: apstylebook.com
    – BrianH
    Mar 29 '17 at 20:14
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    You need to think about who the audience is for a communications office, which is the press. The press strongly prefers you do things according to their style rules because they can take your work intact and print it without editing. Work that follows the AP style guide can be internationally relayed to English speaking countries via the Associated Press. It minimizes work for your customer and creates the possibility of international coverage. Mar 29 '17 at 21:12

The AP style guide does say that "Dr." is used to indicate medical doctor, and that academic degree (Jane Doe, Ph.D.) is used to indicate doctorates. That said, if you don't like that policy, you can point out:

1) It is standard etiquette to use the title a person prefers, and rude to do otherwise.

2) The AP style guide is just one convention among many. Lots of institutions have their own policies (e.g. NASA's communication office has the exact opposite convention, referring to Ph.D.'s as "Dr." and referring to medical doctors as "Jane Doe, M.D."). Several high-profile press institutions (including the New York Times and Wall Street Journal) do not follow the AP style guide in this regard as well.



I don't have access to the AP style guide, but from what I can piece together "Dr" is a reserved, and required, title for medical doctors.

USD says about AP style:

Academic degrees. Use the abbreviation Dr. only before the name of a person who holds a medical degree. Do not use the title Dr. before the names of people who hold other doctorate degrees or honorary doctorate degrees. In those cases, the degrees should be listed after the person’s name. (Jane Smith, PhD)

The Prudue OWL says:

For example, Dr., Gov., Lt. Gov., Rep., the Rev. and Sen. are required before a person’s full name when they occur outside a direct quotation. Please note, that medical and political titles only need to be used on first reference when they appear outside of a direct quote.

This implies that "Dr" is a medical title.

This is consistent with what I can find on the AP style guide says:

See "doctor" for an explanation of Dr. as a title for medical doctor on first reference.

Overall I think your University is strictly interpreting the guidelines by only using Dr for MD degrees and leaving out other medical degrees (e.g., DDS and DO put possibly also DAu, DBH, DC, ND, DNP, DOT, OD, or others on this list. A quick search reveals lots of press offices at US schools follow the AP guidelines.

  • Per rstreet.org/2015/10/27/… (which quotes the relevant passages), Dr. can be used with other degrees, it's just not required like it is for medical. ) Mar 30 '17 at 18:01
  • @guifa that is a nice find. Will edit something in in a bit (or you can do it).
    – StrongBad
    Mar 30 '17 at 18:07

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