9.6 Editor's Pick
December 17, 2020

I’m Not a Doctor, but Dr. Jill Biden Is.

The latest social media buzz has been around an Op-Ed recently published in the Wall Street Journal, written by Joseph Epstein.

What makes it newsworthy is that he called on Dr. Jill Biden, who will be the new First Lady on January 20th, 2021, to drop the two letters before her first name for the reason that she isn’t a real doctor because she doesn’t have an MD after her name.

“Madame First Lady—Mrs. Biden—Jill—kiddo: a bit of advice on what may seem like a small but I think is a not unimportant matter. Any chance you might drop the ‘Dr.’ before your name? ‘Dr. Jill Biden’ sounds and feels fraudulent, not to say a touch comic.” ~ Joseph Epstein

This is a woman who has put in her time and earned her chops, with a plethora of education and experience on both the learning and teaching end of the spectrum. She has attained the status that enables her to use all of these alphabet soup letters after her name—BA from the University of Delaware, two master’s degrees; one from West Chester University and one from Villanova University, and an EdD from the University of Delaware. She taught English and reading in high schools for 13 years, and also taught adolescents at a mental health hospital.

Never has she claimed to be a medical doctor. She has proudly declared that she is a career educator who intends to continue to work in the field even as she fulfills her new role as the First Lady. I have never met her but would be honored to do so and thank her for being a teacher, choosing to follow the same path as have many in my life.

As a therapist with a masters degree in Social Work, the alphabet soup letters that follow my name are MSW and LSW (Licensed Social Worker). One friend who has the same degree refers to us as Masters of Saving the World.

There are times when I am just delusional enough to believe that it is my responsibility. I spent four years earning my BA in Psychology and then another two to earn the MSW and then became a Licensed Social Worker. In 1999, I completed a two-year course of study and became ordained as an interfaith minister. I use the appellation “Rev.” when I officiate at rituals and when I sign petitions that reflect my social values.

There are times when new clients refer to me as “Dr.” I thank them for the promotion and remind them that I didn’t put in the work to earn it. I have numerous friends whose own education granted them such degrees as PhD, EdD, PsyD, DMus, and DC, doctors all. If I had the aspiration to earn my DSW, I would eagerly and justifiably call myself Dr.

I wonder if the author of the poison pen piece thought when he woke up that morning that he would impose his opinion about a woman who, while she is a public figure, and thus in a position to be the subject of criticism, has done nothing immoral, illegal, or unethical by using the title that was bestowed upon her by virtue of her dedication and hard work academically. I would venture a guess that his motivation in attempting to throw shade was to put her in her place, since, heaven forbid, she could use her position to encourage education and success for all children, regardless of gender.

Merriam Webster Dictionary offers this definition of the word doctor: a person who has earned one of the highest academic degrees (such as a PhD) conferred by a university.

Some famous doctors who are not MDs:

>> Mayim Bialik, PhD in Neuroscience (also happens to be an actor, starring in “Big Bang Theory”).

>> Brian May, PhD in Astrophysics (also happens to be a member of the band Queen).

>> Rachel Maddow, D.Phil in Political Science (also happens to be a Rhodes Scholar and political commentator).

>> Martin Luther King, Jr. PhD in Theology (also happened to be a minister and iconic civil rights leader).

>> Karola Ruth Westheimer, EdD (also happens to be the renowned sex educator Dr. Ruth).

I wonder whether Joseph Epstein would dare suggest that these folks perform word surgery and snip their degrees from in front of their names.

The outrage has been apparent, as people from Michelle Obama to Doug Emhoff, from Hillary Clinton to Debra Messing, from Taye Diggs to Chasten Buttigieg have taken to cyberspace to give Epstein a hearty WTF kiddo? in response.

His name was excised from the website of Northwestern University where he taught English. His honorary degree doesn’t carry the same gravitas as Dr. Biden’s and yet, he found an impulse to advise a woman he has never met to play small.

My suggestion to him is to enroll in charm school and learn some manners.


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