Difference Between a Good Doctor and a Good Doctor

Specialties and titles for doctors

“Good afternoon, doctor”. This is what the greeting is often, but often incorrectly. Sorting job titles and academic degrees apart is by no means banal; the opening of European borders and mutual recognition of training courses, diplomas and titles has made it even more confusing.

Who can call themselves a doctor?

So far it's still pretty easy. Anyone wishing to use this legally protected professional title must have successfully completed a university degree of at least five, in Germany six years. After passing the third state examination, the state health authority grants the “license to practice medicine” and thus permission to work as a doctor (but not independently, see below). In other countries, the degree does not necessarily end with the state examination, but with a master’s degree or a diploma (e.g. in the former GDR: Dipl.-Med.).

What does Dr. med.?

This title can be acquired at a German university or medical college by working on a scientific topic in addition to the exam, writing a “doctoral thesis” on this, and then taking an examination, usually traditionally called “rigorosum”.

Dr. med. is the highest academic degree awarded by German universities. Unofficially, it is also given by many patients who address their "doctor" in this way, although he is not one. Abroad, this practice can even be found in official regulations: In Italy you can be addressed with “dottore” after a (three-year) Bachelor's degree. In Holland the doctor is always "dokter", hardly distinguishable from doctor. It is most practical to acquire a degree in Austria: the normal degree there is “Doctor universalis medicinae” or in German “Doctor of all medicine”. This is not only more melodious than the synonymous German “general practitioner”, but is of course often confused with an academic title, often without being contradicted.

What does specialist mean?

After the state examination, doctors first have to undergo specialist training. This is mainly done through work in hospitals, and increasingly also in recognized training practices. The minimum further training period is three years, e.g. for a general practitioner title acquired in France. In Germany you need at least 5 years to obtain a medical specialist title. In their further training regulations, the medical associations stipulate how these training courses must be organized and, at the end of the day, also examine the candidates. Examples are “general practitioner, internal medicine doctor, skin and sexually transmitted diseases doctor”. To make things more complicated, there are also the abbreviations “dermatologist, ENT doctor, general practitioner, etc.” and the Latin names “dermatologist, gynecologist” and others.

What is a focus or additional designation?

Just like the specialist titles, they are usually awarded in addition to these after several years of further training. You can only join a specific specialist, such as "Vascular Surgery" or "Gastroenterology" or as an additional designation to various specialist names, such as "Allergology" or "Naturopathy".

Competition law and medical law have become more relaxed in recent years. In this way, freely invented designations can also be used on signs and letterheads with impunity if they cannot be confused with the "official" designations mentioned above. One example is “Family Medicine Doctor”. Sounds nice and doesn't require any training. Controversial is, for example, "doctor for men's medicine" or "Ayurveda doctor". In case of doubt, the courts decide here.

Information sheet

"Specialties and titles for doctors" (pdf - 19 kB)