Etiology of the Word Doctor

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Doctor is a word which has more than one meaning. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word doctor as a noun – someone who is qualified to practise Medicine, as a title - someone who holds the highest academic degree from a university, or as a verb – to doctor something by treating or altering it. It is of course used in numerous sub contexts but the three main ones are as a noun, title and verb.

Doctor comes from the Latin doctoris. The English took it from the Old French, who took it from the Medieval Latin meaning teacher, which originates from the verb docere meaning to teach. From this it can be said that the role of doctors should be that of teaching and counselling patients, in addition to teaching the younger generation of doctors and not just simply to prescribe medication. This could be a reason why patient education is becoming more prevalent in medical practice today and is necessary for good patient care. Patient education can be interpreted by the saying ‘give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, teach him to fish and he will eat for a lifetime’, so educating patients about management of their illness such as diabetes or obesity can lead to long term benefits compared to solely prescribing medication.

It has been over 4600 years since the term doctor has been used to describe medical doctors in 2650 BCE. Doctor which is often abbreviated to Dr was first used in English in 1303 to refer to a ‘Doctor of the Church’, someone knowledgeable on religion and who has studied the Bible. It was used to refer to people of the church such as fathers, apostles and theologians whose teachings have influenced many. It was in 1377 that the English used it to mean medical doctor as ‘Doctour of Deth’. Doctor was widely used in the sixteenth century and was also used by Shakespeare in his plays, The Merry Wives of Windsor and Macbeth as well as others. It can also be linked to the roots of the word ‘docile’, as a docile person is easy to...
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