What's in a name? Laypeople's understanding of medical roles and titles

Emily Hause, Corinne Praska, Michael B. Pitt, Marissa A. Hendrickson, Victoria Charpentier, Katherine A. Allen, Rachael Gotlieb, Scott Lunos, Jordan Marmet

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations

Abstract

Background: Physicians regularly use jargon in patient communication, which can lead to confusion and misunderstanding. Objective: To assess the general public's understanding of names and roles of medical specialties and job seniority titles. Designs: Volunteer participants completed an electronic survey, filling-in-the-blanks for 14 medical specialties (e.g., “pediatricians are doctors who take care of _____”), and ranked physician titles in order of experience (medical student, intern, senior resident, fellow, attending).Setting: The 2021 Minnesota State Fair.Participants: Volunteers >18 years old without medical or nursing training. Main Outcome and Measures: We summarized responses with descriptive statistics. Two researchers coded open-ended answers as correct, partially correct, or incorrect, with a third researcher for coding discrepancies. Results: Two hundred and four participants completed the survey (55% female; mean age 43; 67% of respondents with a bachelor's degree or higher). Of 14 medical specialties listed on the survey, respondents most accurately identified dermatologists (94%) and cardiologists (93%). Six specialties were understood by less than half of the respondents: neonatologists (48%), pulmonologists (43%), hospitalists (31%), intensivists (29%), internists (21%), and nephrologists (20%). Twelve percent of participants correctly identified medical roles in rank order. Most participants (74%) correctly identified medical students as the least experienced. Senior residents were most often identified as the most experienced (44%), with just 27% of respondents correctly placing the attending there. We conclude that medical professionals should recognize that titles are a common source of misunderstanding among the general public and should describe their role when introducing themselves to minimize confusion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)956-960
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of hospital medicine
Volume17
Issue number12
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors wish to acknowledge the Driven to Discover research faculty and coordinators: Logan Spector, PhD, Ellen Damerath, PhD, and Annie Hotop for enabling our research at the Minnesota State Fair. Less than $4500 was provided in part by the University of Minnesota Driven to Discover grant. This research was supported by the National Institutes of Health's (NIH) National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, grant UL1TR002494. The NIH had no role in the design and conduct of the study. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health's National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Society of Hospital Medicine.

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