Should we shift from using ‘junior doctors’ to postgraduate doctors?

In the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), the language we use to describe medical professionals holds significant weight. The term ‘junior doctor,’ a longstanding descriptor for doctors in training or those in their early postgraduate years in the UK, is now being re-evaluated. The British Medical Association (BMA) has highlighted the need for a terminology update to more accurately reflect the expertise and responsibilities of these vital healthcare professionals. Our article in BJGP Open┬ádiscusses this issue further.

The Need for Change

The term ‘junior doctor’ has been a staple in the UK medical lexicon for decades, but it fails to capture the breadth of experience and skill these doctors possess. These professionals, who may have up to a decade of training, are fully qualified and play a crucial role in patient care, performing a wide range of duties from diagnosis to complex medical procedures. The current term may inadvertently diminish their value and expertise.

A More Accurate Representation

As the roles of these doctors evolve with advancing medicine, so too should the terminology. The proposed shift to ‘postgraduate doctors’ better represents their level of education and training, impacting how they are perceived by patients, colleagues, and the broader public. This change is particularly pertinent in primary care, where these doctors often serve as critical members of the clinical team and are involved in supervisory roles.

Enhancing Recruitment and Job Satisfaction

This rebranding is more than a semantic shift; it’s a move that could influence recruitment into medical specialties, including general practice. At a time when the NHS faces challenges in recruiting for general practice roles, recognizing the perspectives and contributions of this younger generation of doctors is crucial.

Supporting Evidence

A report by Prof Scarlett McNally for Health Education England (HEE) found overwhelming support for moving away from the term ‘junior doctor.’ The majority of respondents, including doctors, patients, and healthcare staff, favoured ‘postgraduate doctors’ as a more appropriate alternative. This change also aligns with the desire for clarity regarding a doctor’s seniority level.

Implications for Patient Care

The term ‘junior doctor’ can inadvertently cause patient anxiety, especially in high-stress situations. Introducing oneself as a ‘doctor’ or ‘postgraduate doctor’ can instil more confidence in patients. Clear designations on name badges and specific introductions can reduce uncertainty and potential bias.

A Collective Effort

The support for this change isn’t limited to the BMA; various surgical and medical royal colleges in the UK have also advocated for moving away from the term ‘junior doctors.’ This collective effort underscores the importance of language in shaping patient perception and trust.

Conclusion

As healthcare evolves, so must our language. The shift from ‘junior doctors’ to ‘postgraduate doctors’ is more than a nominal change; it’s a step towards a more accurate, respectful, and empowering representation of these medical professionals. This change not only recognizes their expertise and contributions but also enhances patient care and trust in the healthcare system. The medical community should actively engage in discussions and work towards implementing this revised designation, reflecting the realities of modern medical practice.