"Sir or Ma'am" when addressing physicians?


  • Specializes in Pediatric Rehabilitation. Has 20 years experience.
  1. When addressing physicians, I..

    • 14
      ALWAYS say, "sir" or "ma'am"
    • 21
      SOMETIMES say, "sir or "ma'am"
    • 25
      NEVER say, "sir" or "ma'am"
    • 35
      You're kidding, right? This is 2012!
    • 32
      It's simply a personal choice.

116 members have participated

Just curious to the general opinion of fellow nurses. Raised and practice in the south, but ran into a funny debate this past week. While I was raised to say ma'am and sir, it is not my practice to do so when addressing doctors at work. Maybe because I'm older than most of them or perhaps it just isn't customary? I'm not sure.

The debate arose as another coworker and I listened (and cringed) to a nurse on the phone with a doctor. A well raised (by southern standards) 24 year old, he seems to amost be excessive with the, "yes, sir..yes, sir...yes sir" in his telephone conversations. He's a great kid (I only pray mine will turn out so well) and when we mentioned to him he may want to tone down the "sir's" he was visably offended. We tried explaining that he was setting himself up to be "run over" by being submissive, but he didn't buy that--said if he got run over it'd be because he allowed himself to be run over, not because he was being respectful (he may have a point?).

Most of our physician's are not from the south and most that we deal with are residents, so they are also very young.

All this left me pondering what is the PROFESSIONAL standard for addressing physicians?

Food for thought...


40 Posts

I vary based on my interactions and history with a given physician. Also according with the inconvenience and/or nuisance of a given call. By default I'll always speak in terms like that, but if a physician doesn't reciprocate with respectful interaction, I'll drop my own.

Kittypower123, BSN, RN

1 Article; 150 Posts

Specializes in Hospice. Has 6 years experience.

I pretty much call everyone sir or ma'am, but not necessarily everytime I speak with them. Some conversations just don't call for it. I will start off a conversation with a doctor using their name and the conversations don't always call for anything more.

allnurses Guide

Meriwhen, ASN, BSN, MSN, RN

4 Articles; 7,907 Posts

Specializes in Psych ICU, addictions.

I call them whatever they want to be called (some have requested I call them by their first names)...but if they don't have a preference, I'll default to Doctor or Mr./Ms. X. I also hand disrespect right back to them.

Altra, BSN, RN

6,255 Posts

Specializes in Emergency & Trauma/Adult ICU.

If the nurse's use of "sir" was different than his typical conversation with other colleagues then I understand your point, OP. In other words, the use of sir/ma'am and other titles is highly dependent on region/culture ... but in a hospital setting, physicians are nurses' colleagues, not superiors. (with certain exceptions - department heads, my hospital's CEO, etc.) So if the nurse you are describing was being particularly deferential to a physician because he was a physician, then the nurse might want to give some thought to his interactions with colleagues and how they set up future interactions. If his speech patterns include heavy use of sir/ma'am with all individuals with whom he does not have a personal relationship, then there's probably no harm in politeness.


297 Posts

Specializes in NICU.

When I speak privately to a physician (over the phone, in a work area, during multidisciplinary rounds), I call them by their first name. When I speak to the physician in front of patient/family OR when I refer to the physician, while speaking to patient/family, I call them Dr. So-and-So.

classicdame, MSN, EdD

2 Articles; 7,255 Posts

Specializes in Hospital Education Coordinator.

small community hospital in the south - I end up calling most by first name as they are neighbors and church family too

MN-Nurse, ASN, RN

1,398 Posts

Specializes in Med Surg - Renal.

I think you are making too big a deal about this. I've had MDs call me "sir."

BostonTerrierLover, BSN, RN

2 Articles; 908 Posts

Specializes in Adult/Ped Emergency and Trauma. Has 16 years experience.

Lol, I'm southern, so it's always with me- younger too, just now seeing Docs younger than me.

I also return the same respect to my Nurse Elders until they either "ok" not saying it (or threaten bodily harm if use sir/ma'am again!) Just a norm here, I'm not unique from what I've seen.

Also, even if on a first name basis with an elder colleague, it's Mr./Ms./Mrs. (e.g. Jane Doe=Ms. Jane/Ms. Doe according to what permissions have been given.) Her peers might call her "Jane," but I would not dare until I am given formal permission.

Now that I travel nurse (especially Western US, and Florida) they look at me like I am crazy, then consider my accent, and I get a pass. It's all in the name of respect to me, and I thing think they realize that.

netglow, ASN, RN

4,412 Posts


Never even as a child used the word "Sir". Mr. Mrs. Ms. was formal enough for me. I say, Dr. _______. If meeting an MD and that person corrects me and offers a first name, I will use that first name always if I remember it. I am notorious for just saying, "Doc" in place of "Hey you" if I forgot the name or don't care at the moment - a generic for me.


753 Posts

Specializes in Pediatric Rehabilitation. Has 20 years experience.
I think you are making too big a deal about this. I've had MDs call me "sir."

I apologize for inconveniencing you with my insignificant post. Was not my attempt to make a "big deal" as I was simply interested to see how other colleagues felt about this insignificant, non-issue. I, too, have had MD's address me as "Mrs." and I address them as "Dr." and every now and then with an attending, I may even throw in a "sir" but that was not the question; "ma'am and sir" was the question in the OP. The other nurse, who brought it to my attention, is also male and it actually disturbed him more than it did me, so I wondered if it was related to male-male interaction. Rest assured that no "big deal" was made of the original incident; we all left the shift holding hands and singing "Kumbaya" as it was our last night for 7.

To everyone else who replied, thanks for your input. I am with the majority in that I tend to offer and address depending on the amount of respect I am shown. Only thing different with me is that I absolutely refuse to call them by their first names, even if they address themselves by first name. I personally feel that they deserve the title of "Dr." simply because of the hard work and sacrifice necessary to become a MD.

Altra, I like your observation. While he is a very respectful young man and does address everyone the same as the docs, I do believe he over uses when speaking with a doc because it stands out (both of us had noticed it without it being pointed out); it's almost excessive. He intended no disrespect to coworkers or anyone, nor was any taken. We were just concerned with him setting himself up to be "looked down upon." He's a new nurse, lacking confidence, and I think that may play a role in his overuse AND our perception of how it could be interpreted.


43 Posts

Specializes in critical care/tele/emergency.

Okay, I'm going out on a limb here, but the most disturbing thing about the poll was that 30% of the respondants chose Are you kidding? I admit to being old (in some folks opinion :coollook:) but really??? Have we really lost the need for a little uncommon courtesy? I'm with the folks that say it depends on the situation. For instance, I won't address anyone as Sir/Ma'am when we are working side by side but will the first time I see that person. Hands down, it is considered professional and respectful and besides, my grandmother would beat me with a stick from her grave if I didn't.