Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

What’s My Name?

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on March 8, 2011

  Erin, a new patient, age fifty, says “hi Shirah” as she walks in my consultation room. “I can call you Shirah,” she says sweetly. “Sure” I said, thinking to myself, why not? “OK, well you can call me Erin,” she says, even though I would never think to call her anything else. Sure, back in the dark ages of my medical training in the 1980s, we were trained to address every patient by their last name, but times have changed, and life, at least in Los Angeles, seems more casual. Plus, I have gotten older so the age difference between me and my patients has decreased. So, with a more relaxed culture, and my increasing age, I have become comfortable addressing all my patients by their first name. It would seem uneven if I insisted that they address me by saying “Dr. Vollmer”. On the other hand, the relationship is uneven, so maybe I should insist on “Dr. Vollmer” as a way of reminding myself and the patient that we are engaged in some serious business, in the same way that professional clothes, whatever that means, is supposed to remind both the professional and the client that serious work is at hand. Yet, the entertainment business, and many primary and secondary schools, insist that every staff member, including the principle be addressed by their first name. When Summerhill started this trend in education back in the 1960s it was radical. Today, students addressing teachers and coaches by their first name is comfortable and friendly, without any sense that their authority is somehow diminished. My name is Shirah. I feel clear about that. Call me “Dr. Vollmer” and I will answer to that too. You decide.

4 Responses to “What’s My Name?”

  1. Shelly said

    Interesting. Would your patient call her family doctor by his or her first name? Gynecologist? Internist? Why should her psychiatrist be any different? On the other hand, you and she are involved in a far different, more intimate (well, on a different level than a gynecologist…get what I mean?)relationship, and in keeping with the intimacy, perhaps first names are in order?

  2. Danny said

    The “dark ages of 1980’s ” that’s funny! It does sort of seem such a long time ago especially since so many social changes have occurred in the last 20 years or so.

  3. Yes, both social and technological changes have made it so how we address people is very age-dependent. Thanks.

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