Doctors all around, but few philosophers

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The Independent Online
A cry of "Is there a doctor in the house?" is now more likely to produce a glut of sociologists, graphic designers and psychologists than a physician. Britain's universities are producing record numbers of doctors, most of them of the non-medical type, according to the latest figures.

Although the number of applications for undergraduate places is falling, a bumper 71,685 people are currently studying for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in every subject imaginable, from aspects of Freudian theory and trawler navigation, to textile design and animal husbandry.

So thick on the ground are the doctors and would-be doctors, that some medical men want the title reserved for them alone to avoid confusion.

"It's time for a change. If the call goes out, 'Is there a doctor in the house', a PhD in astrophysics in not usually what is required," suggested Mike Harris in the British Medical Association's News Review.

"I propose the title Doctor be reserved for medical practitioners of any grade and in any speciality," he says.

Latest figures show that there has been a huge increase in doctorate students. The current tally of 71,685 compares to 64,621 only 18 months ago. No comparable figures are available for earlier years, although in 1980, only 5,800 doctorates were awarded at British universities. Students are funding themselves by various means, from part-time jobs to grants from trusts, foundations and universities.

Of the current total only 5,100 are medical or dental students, almost the same as the number of people studying for a doctorate in a foreign language.

Top of the production-line league is Cambridge University with 4,253 would-be PhDs, 10 times the number of people studying for veterinary doctorates in the whole of the UK. Oxford is second in the league with 3,776, followed by Birmingham and Leeds with around 2,300 each.

The new universities are also dishing out doctorates, with the University of Huddersfield having 340 carrying out research, and another 126 at the Cheltenham and Gloucestershire College of Higher Education. Joint bottom of the league are Wimbledon School of Art and Westminster College with two each.

With so many doctors moving along the production lines of academia, the problem of ambiguity has been occupying the minds of the medical profession.

Dr Harris may want to reserve the title for medics, but other suggestions have surfaced in letters to the BMA too.

Dr Alexander Forrest wrote:"We follow the lead of gas installers by putting on our letterheads our registered GMC number."

Another put forward the idea of a new title, Medico, while Mark Wardle said: "The title Doctor should be dropped for medics completely. The term Comrade seems far more appropriate and would in one action bring together the NHS, boost morale and raise standards. Who would not wish for the day when a referral letter began with the words, 'Dear Comrade'."

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