When someone introduces himself as "Doctor Jones", does that usually imply he is a PhD, or does it imply he is a medical doctor? Obviously, if you're in the emergency room, a "doctor" can be assumed to be of the medical variety; but what about a more general environment?

  • 2
    I don't think there's really a good answer to this question. For example, Dr. Strangelove could be a medical doctor, a psychologist, a physicist, a chiropractor, a dentist, or a professor. Those who hold terminal degrees have earned a right to call themselves doctor; some will, and some won't.
    – J.R.
    Commented Jul 30, 2014 at 21:54
  • Thanks J.R. so it looks like it could be both (or more) and there's no definite way to guess except to ask the person.
    – Alex
    Commented Jul 30, 2014 at 22:26
  • This might be a matter of opinion, but usually you only hear "doctor" as it's relevant to the environment. The medical doctor is "Doctor" at his job, but not at his wife's company picnic. The mathematician is "Doctor" at his job but he wouldn't introduce himself like that at the hospital. It's really up to the title holder, but I have a long standing opinion that people who use titles outside of the relevant environment are trying to be pretentious. Medical doctors get more leeway on this (being a medical professional is always a LITTLE relevant) but non-medical doctors, not so much.
    – JamieB
    Commented Jun 20, 2016 at 20:07

3 Answers 3


In the United States, many people with a PhD will have the title Dr. So I think the rule is you have to ask.


In addition to Medical Doctors (MDs) and Doctors of Philosophy (PhDs), there are also:

  • Doctors of Dentistry (DDSes)
  • Doctors of Chiropractic (DCs)
  • Doctors of Veterinary Medicine (DVMs)
  • Doctors of Divinity (DDs)
  • Doctors of Education (EdDs)
  • Doctors of Law or Juris Doctors (JDs)

In the United States, most lawyers are JDs; they are typically not addressed as "Doctor". Similarly, it is unusual for a teacher with an EdD to be referred to as "Doctor".

In the United States, it can be much more difficult to get into veterinary school than into medical school. On the other hand, most MDs spend more time in apprenticeships after obtaining their MDs than veterinarians do after obtaining their DVMs.


As stated in prior answers, the best advice is to ask. Often people with a Ph.D or a high level of medical education will be upset if you don't use the title correctly.

It should be noted that in common usage in the U.S., however, the term "doctor" is most often associated with medical then scientific/mathematical professions and finally psychology.

Medical Professions (Most Common)

  • Medical Doctor (M.D.)

This can include general practitioners (no specialization -- your family doctor), but also specialist doctors such as pediatricians (children's doctors), or those who specialize in specific parts of the body (e.g cardiologist -- heart doctor).


  • Dentist (D.D.S)
  • Optometrist (eye doctor) (O.D.)
  • Chiropractic (bone and joint) doctor (D.C.)
  • Veterinary (animal) doctors (D.V.M).

Non-Medical Professions

The term "doctor" can also be applied to non-medical professions:

Most Common

  • Scientist (Ph.D. and Sc.D.)
  • Mathematician (Ph.D.)


  • Psychologist (Ph.D.)

Less Common

  • Academic (Ed.D. and Ph.D.)
  • Religious (D.D.)

But these non-medical professions are still less common than medical ones and many will assume that if you say "Dr. So-and-So", you mean someone who has a medical degree of some sort. Many academic (and some scientific) professions opt for the title of "Professor", at least if they are teachers.

  • Don't forget about Sc.D. They're much less common in the US (most of those I've met are German), but they're around and essentially equivalent to a Ph.D.
    – Kevin
    Commented Jul 31, 2014 at 2:41
  • Absolutely. Updated answer. M.I.T. gives out Sc.D. degrees in lieu of Ph.Ds, at least for some areas of study. It should be noted that in the U.S. "The academic research Sc.D. (or D.Sc.) is considered by both the United States Department of Education and the National Science Foundation to be equivalent to the more commonly awarded Ph.D." - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doctor_of_Science#United_States Commented Jul 31, 2014 at 3:08
  • In other countries, like the UK, DSc's and PhD's are different titles. - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    – Nico
    Commented Jul 31, 2014 at 9:50

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