Friday, January 2, 2015

A doctor need not be a “Dr.”

Everyday I find at least one message in my mailbox by a “Dr. Sunil” or “Dr. Gita”, asking for the possibility of doing “postgraduate medical studies” in Germany. Initially I was confused: If they have already taken a medical doctorate, why do they ask about “postgraduate studies”? “Postgraduate” in Germany and the US is another term for doctoral, “graduate” meaning master-level and “undergraduate” bachelor-level studies.

Very soon it became clear to me that all the “Dr. Sunils” and “Dr. Gitas”, who contact me, are in fact doctors but not “Drs.” What caused the confusion is the so-called “courtesy title” used by medical graduates (MBBS) in some English-speaking countries, including those of the Indian subcontinent. This is a practice that you should forget as soon as possible when you are dealing with Germany, not because Germans are “uncourteous”, but because they have a somewhat legalistic attitude towards academic titles.

“Courtesy titles”, as the one automatically “awarded” to medical graduates in India and other countries, are considered a discriminatory practice in Germany, as they put graduates of other disciplines, who need to do a doctorate first in order to earn the title of “Dr.”, at a disadvantage. Therefore, if you are a medical graduate and deal with German universities, hospitals or other official authorities, do not use the title “Dr.” at your own discretion. “Dr.” is a protected academic title in Germany, and putting a “Dr.” before your name without having completed a doctorate is a legal offence. Just in case you didn't know…

Should you ever have the opportunity to walk through a German city, take a look at the plates that doctors put up outside their practices. You will notice that most of them use a “Dr.” before their names. Yes, after what has been said above, you are right in surmising that all of these doctors are not availing themselves of a “courtesy title” but have in fact completed a medical doctorate. The first medical degree in Germany being a master-level degree (there is no bachelor of medicine in German-speaking lands), it is a normality for the vast majority of medical doctors to acquire a doctorate before opening their own practice.

And, finally, if you have already taken a medical degree from another country and want to upgrade your qualification, I am not the right person for you to contact. My counselling extends only to undergraduate medical studies in Germany, in other words, I focus on those who wish to become German-trained doctors from scratch.

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