This interesting extract explains how ‘General Practitioners’ historically (and ‘legally’) developed in the UK – and why these medical practitioners are termed ‘Doctors’ even though their primary medical qualifications do not directly bestow that title upon them! Medical student in the UK study a four year Bachelor Degree in Science (BSc) and then qualify as a ‘General Practitioner’ (GP) – where they are allowed to practice medicine – but are not technically ‘Doctors’ – as they do not hold an advanced degree such as a Masters or Doctorate! At this point in their career, they are referred to as ‘Doctor’ purely as a honorific title out of respect for the tremendous amount of hard-work and study they have achieved and the examinations they have successfully passed, etc. Surgeons in the UK, by way of contrast, are always termed “Mr’, and this might be in protest to the existence of ‘GPs’ – where Surgeons refuse the honorific of ‘Doctor’ so as not to be associated with the descendants of common ‘Grocers’ – whom they consider ‘unqualified’ to practice medicine!
Of course, it gets a little complicated if a PhD (or similar) is held by a GP and/or a Surgeon – but this does not alter the fact that a ‘GP’ is technically not a ‘Doctor’. A ‘Doctor of Philosophy’ (PhD) is not a ‘Medical Doctor’ qualification but is rather an academic rank (of which there are many versions such as in ‘Law’, ‘Literature’ and ‘Music’, etc). In theory, a ‘PhD’ (or similar) could well involve advanced medical research, but even so, the holder of this distinction would still be an ‘Academic Doctor’ who has diversified and specialised in a medical subject – pushing the theoretical boundaries of knowledge further back – whilst adding new and original thinking to existing understanding!