When is Oz Doctor? Why Does it Matter?

Arden Mahlberg

I recall a Sunday when someone came up to me in church and asked, “Aren’t you Dr. Mahlberg?” I replied, “Not today,” and told them they could call me Arden. In situations like mine, some people politely ask how I would like them to refer to me. When I am in my role, it is Dr. Mahlberg. When not, it is Arden.

Mehmet Oz complains that some news sources are not referring to him as Dr. Oz as they report on his campaign for office. They have rules against using such titles outside their context. When they report on him engaged in the practice of medicine, they refer to him as Mehmet Oz, MD, or Dr. Oz. When not in that role, they refer to him as Mehmet Oz. In doing so, they are treating him as they do anyone else. He is protesting that, thinking he should always be Dr. Oz.

Whatever egalitarian motives we have as a society are well served by not allowing people to have their professional titles be used as their social identity. It is all about status, and status brings deference and power. That is why they want it. But outside professional practice, it is gratuitous and works against an egalitarian society. Some people with titles understand and agree with that. Others object and push for their way.

Identity is very important, and people should be allowed to claim and assert their identities. But not when they claim a social identity that puts them above others. Respect for the person does not obligate us to comply with such wishes. Respect for the role does not either when the person is not in their professional role. This is what belief in an egalitarian society requires of us.

It is also good for individuals. The healthiest identities are those that create the greatest resilience. I’ve spoken with many people who have moved after they retired and complain, “No one here knows who I am.” In their previous location, they had successful careers and were given social status because of it, which they embraced. This did not serve them well in the long run. We need not contribute to this unhealthy practice for ourselves, for others, and for the sake of an egalitarian society.