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M.D. Envy

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"If physicians tend to be upper-middle-class, dentists are gloomily aware that they're middle, and are said to experience frightful status anxieties when introduced socially to 'physicians' — as dentists like to call them. (Physicians call themselves doctors, and enjoy doing this in front of dentists, as well as college professors, chiropractors, and divines.)"
Paul Fussell, Class

The practice of medicine has long been one of the highest-status professions around; what, after all, could be more admirable than healing the sick?

In comedies, the high status attached to physicians is always shown to loom large over those who come close to, but do not quite attain, the sacred mantle... such as other health professionals, doctors in non-medical fields, and sometimes even medical doctors whose specialty is perceived as less challenging or useful than others. Similarly, a nurse has a different set of skills than a doctor and they don't like to be confused for one.

Of course in some Real Life cultures like Judaism (at least in America), a doctor is often considered to be a preferred profession by the family, so this has some basis in reality.

See also Not That Kind of Doctor. Compare Hard on Soft Science.


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  • In Bill Cosby's "Tonsils" routine from the Wonderfulness album, the young Cosby addresses an orderly: "Hey, you! Almost a doctor!"
  • A joke: a patient goes to the doctor's, explaining that his pharmacist didn't know what to prescribe him. The doctor smugly responds that the day pharmacists know what to do, he'll eat his diploma, then asks what advice the *snrk* pharmacist gave. "He told me to see a doctor."

    Comic Books 
  • Subverted by Marvel Comics' Night Nurse, who is actually a physician. Doctor Strange (a former surgeon) jokingly suggests she might have a "Florence Nightingale fetish," but she insists it's only because the codename is catchier than "Night General Practitioner."

  • In The Three Lives of Thomasina, veterinarian Andrew MacDhuie's defining feature is his great bitterness with his profession and not being able to use his skills to help people.
  • Groucho averted this in A Day at the Races by just practicing on humans anyway.
  • In Meet the Parents Greg has no shame or inferiority complex about being a male nurse, but is constantly asked by his fiancée's family why he didn't want to go all the way and become a doctor. Several of them are doctors. In fact, they all assume he flunked out of being a doctor, and they need to see a copy of his transcript before they'll believe he actually got top marks and preferred to be a nurse to get more time with patients. And even then, Jack, the patriarch, isn't entirely convinced.
  • The envy and inadequacy suffered by Kirstie Alley's character Marjorie as a woman who has married into an entire family of doctors is the catalyst for the entire plot of Sibling Rivalry.
  • The MD vs DO debate: The movie Alien Apocalypse has Bruce Campbell as a DO who saves the world from alien conquest using the power of osteopathy and pointed sticks. He continually complains about no one takes him seriously because he's a DO.
    • Bit of a Dead Horse Trope. These days DO and MD are considered equivalent degrees and the training and philosophy behind them don't differ much anymore.
  • Lampshaded in Star Trek IV: When Dr. McCoy starts to diagnose Chekov's condition, the other MD in the room snarks: "What's your degree in? Dentistry?" Of course McCoy, practicing incredibly more advanced medicine from the 23rd century thinks they're butchers, extorting them to "put away their butcher knives", then goes on to effortlessly cure Chekov and a nearby woman undergoing dialysis.
    "The doctor gave me a pill and I grew a new kidney!!"
  • In The Hangover whenever Stu introduces himself as a doctor Phil is quick to point out that he's "just a dentist".

  • From A Song of Ice and Fire In the Seven Kingdoms, you're either an officially acknowledged maester or a nothing — even if you do some of what they do, or even all of it. Qyburn was a full maester. Until he got himself demoted due to ethical malpractice; part of his For Science! motivation is getting his chain (aka his licence) back upon proving himself right... by doubling down on what got him canned in the first place.
    • Haldon "Half-Maester" is so-called because he supposedly never completed his maester's chain, so is technically simply an acolyte of the Citadel, still (think... a university post-grad student yet to sit all their final exams, yet having technically completed every module and practical needed to qualify). Yet, he performs the role of a maester for the Golden Company in practice. After all, it just wouldn't do to have a fully recognised maester assigned to outlaws and cadet branches, be they nobles or not. If you smell a fish, you're not the only one: Tyrion notes all this when he bumps into it.
  • Sarah from Quite Ugly One Morning is an anesthetist, and has several rants in the book about arrogant surgeons, and people who are surprised to learn that one needs to be a doctor to practice anesthesia.
  • Shadow of the Hegemon:
    Petra: Oh, yes, I forgot, we trust your fellow conspirators to see all and miss nothing, because, after all, they aren't psychiatrists.
    The Psychologist: I'm a psychologist.
    Petra: Ouch. That must have hurt, to admit you're only half-educated.
  • Seen in the Aubrey-Maturin series, usually from the perspective of the common sailors who are pleased to have an actual learned physician like Stephen Maturin on board. Most naval surgeons are decidedly not physicians. Some have little more than a steady hand with an amputation saw, and given the high rate of drunkenness among naval surgeons, possibly not even that.
  • In The Silence of the Lambs one of the (many) ways Hannibal Lecter undermines Dr Chilton, the obnoxious and abusive head of the institution in which Lecter's incarcerated, is by publicly pointing out that Chilton doesn't actually have an MD. However, Lecter's disdain for Chilton is not simply because of this (he holds most "real" doctors, as well as the rest of the world, in total contempt) but more due to Chilton's mistreatment of him and Chilton's mistaken belief that he's as clever as Lecter.
  • Inverted in the Sidney Sheldon novel Nothing Lasts Forever, where Honey Taft reveals that she wanted to be a nurse, but that her father wouldn't settle for anything less than her being a doctor (which actually plays this trope straight from his point of view). This results in her being a very mediocre physician (that she slept with numerous professors in order to get good grades doesn't help), frequently lamenting not standing up to her father and going to nursing school as she wished.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Forever: When Jo asks Henry if he ever considered becoming "a real doctor," he pointedly explains he is a real doctor (an M. D.), and he'll try not to take offense on behalf all medical examiners. When he relaxes and smiles after, it becomes clear he was only feigning taking offense at the question.
  • Ross from Friends holds a doctorate in paleontology. He uses the title "Doctor" as often as he can, and refers to himself as a doctor when the context implies "medical doctor":
    • For instance, when Rachel's father Dr. Green is ill:
    Rachel: It's so weird to see Dad like this. You never imagine doctors getting sick.
    Ross: And yet, we do.
    • In the same episode, at the hospital:
    Ross: And I'm Doctor Ross Geller.
    Rachel: Ross, please, this is a hospital, okay? That actually means something here.
    • Then there's the time Russ showed up. He crowed that Ross was jealous of him being a "real doctor." Ross remained unimpressed. "You're a doctor of gums! That's the smallest body part you can major in!" To be fair, Russ has most likely hit his glass ceiling already, whereas Ross can and did go much further.
    • During his parents' anniversary, it becomes apparent where Ross gets this.
    Ross: I'm Ross Gellar.
    Jack: [interrupting] Doctor Ross Gellar!
    Ross: [embarrassed] Dad! Please! [soberly] I'm Doctor Ross Gellar...
  • Ben from My Family is a dentist, and is shown to have such a strong inferiority complex around doctors that his children lie about the profession of a friend's parent to avoid his reaction.
  • Scrubs examples:
    • Carla can become very defensive when anyone uses the phrase "just a nurse".
    • Turk and J.D. are Star Crossed Heterosexual Life-Partners, having crossed the divide between physicians and surgeons, neither of whom consider the other group to be real doctors.
    • In one episode where Dr. Cox has to call the hospital dermatologist, he rants to the patient:
      Dr. Cox: Do you see what you've made me do? By once again choosing to spend all of your free time out on the surface of the sun until melanoma has developed, you have forced me to pull the attending dermatologist away from his bacne seminar and validate his most ridiculous of career choices.
    • In the episode "My Quarantine":
      Dr. Cox: Otherwise, let's bear in mind that we are short-handed. There are only four doctors here.
      Turk: I counted more than that.
      Dr. Cox: I'm talking legitimate doctors, turtle head. Here, Pee-Pants is a pathologist, so he doesn't count. Johnson is a dermatologist, which is Greek for "fake doctor," and please don't even get me started on you four surgeons.
      Todd: There's only two of us.
      Dr. Cox: You are so very useless, I counted you both twice.
    • Cox also dislikes the surgeons and calls them "scalpel jockies" more often then not. Whenever he does (or calls them anything else derogatory) he will follow up by pointing out that the important stuff is being done by the "real doctors" and pointing to himself.
    • An early episode has Elliot treating a psychiatrist. She unthinkingly asks him what prompted him to go that direction and not become a "real doctor".
      Elliot: Wow! I can't imagine picking psychiatry as a specialty after interning as a real doctor.
    • Dr. Cox even refers to his own psychiatrist as someone who couldn't cut it in real medicine.
  • Alan from Two and a Half Men is often belittled for being a chiropractor and not a "real" doctor.
  • ER:
    • Averted in the Bottle Episode "Secrets And Lies", where Abby claims that the reason she dropped out of medical school and returned to nursing was so she could spend more time with each patient. She even lampshades the trope and claims that not all nurses have MD Envy.
    • And then she completes her medical education and becomes a doctor anyway a couple of seasons later.
    • Also averted with Carol Hathaway in Season 3. Hathaway spent several episodes considering getting a medical degree—as well as one episode continually locking horns with another doctor, suddenly resentful of having to take orders from someone younger and less experienced that she, even though she'd never displayed such behavior before—but ultimately decided she preferred being a nurse.
    • Dr. Maggie Doyle apparently had this. Shortly after joining the show, she mentions to Carol that she actually started out in nursing school before switching to medicine, as she wanted to be the one giving the orders instead of taking them.
    • Jerkass Romano insisted on operating on his dog himself. When asked why he didn't take her to a veterinarian, he snaps, "You think I'd trust my dog with some idiot who couldn't get into real medical school?!" Another scene has him saying, "If I wanted a nurse's opinion, I'd. . .actually, I don't know what I'd do, because that's never happened. Throughout his time on the show, it's obvious he holds little regard for anyone who not only isn't in the medical profession, but isn't a surgeon like himself.
  • Seinfeld:
    • Elaine dates a med student who has repeatedly failed his licensing exam to officially become a doctor. She insists on calling him "doctor" anyway so she can say she's dating a doctor, and helps him study for his exam so he'll pass it. When he finally does, he dumps her immediately.
      Elaine: But what about my dream of dating a doctor?!
      Doctor: I'm sorry, Elaine. I always knew that after I became a doctor, I would dump whoever I was with and find someone better. That's the dream of becoming a doctor.
    • In another episode, she dates a podiatrist; the story's humor comes from her desperation to think of him as a real doctor.
    • Another episode features Jerry dating a doctor who constantly talks about how rewarding saving lives is. When he finds out she's a dermatologist, a field he regards as utterly worthless, he is outraged. Next time they are out on a date, he angrily chews her out for daring to call herself a lifesaver... only to be interrupted by a man who thanks her profusely for saving his life. He had skin cancer. Open Mouth, Insert Foot
  • In Coupling Sally claimed her new boyfriend was a surgeon, which backfired when Jane recognised him as her butcher. Hilarity Ensues when he unwittingly gives the boys the impression that he's been performing unethical operations on her. Sally explains that she was insecure about people making "butcher jokes". No one points out that there are likely a lot more jokes about doctors.
  • Out Of Practice was a short lived sitcom about a family where everyone was a doctor except for the youngest son, Ben, who was a relationship counselor (although he may have had a psychiatric doctorate, I can't recall). He always had a slight complex about this, although his other relatives always stressed that he was doing important work. Of course, his brother Oliver was a plastic surgeon, which, while an important profession, isn't generally thought of as being a "proper" doctor either—ironically, they spend almost as much time in residency/training as neurosurgeons, probably the most revered specialty of all.
  • The series Providence refers to this: lead character Sydney is a plastic surgeon and frequently has to deal with other doctors outright scoffing at her when she reveals this. Even one of her classmates seems reluctant to take her on as partner in her practice because of this (granted, this is a family practice, which Sydney, despite her skills and training, really does lack experience in.
  • Bones:
    • In one episode, Temperance thanked a chiropractor for his help but couldn't help noting that he wasn't a "real medical doctor". As she left he pointed out that she isn't a medical doctor either (she's an anthropologist).
    • Another episode featured an M.D. making a snide remark about academics being people who couldn't do the "real" doctorate after Brennan said her doctorate was a PhD. Brennan herself, however, is quite proud of her doctorates and never shows envy towards medical doctors.
  • In the Doctor Who episode "Amy's Choice", Rory is the village doctor. And the Doctor suggests that as evidence that the village is the dream scenario since he assumes Rory always dreamed of being more than "just" a nurse. Later episodes demonstrate this isn't necessarily true: Rory is shown and described to be an amazing nurse, and quite proud of the work he does.
  • There are a lot of friction between doctors and the Ambulance crew in Sirens (UK), there were really quite shocked when a doctor thanked them and said they did a good job. In another episode two of the lads attempt to hit on a medical student that says they're nothing but glorified taxi drivers.
  • The guys and gals from The Big Bang Theory are usually respected for being scientists and having PhD degrees, and Penny only thinks that science is incredibly boring, but at times she becomes fascinated with it. Howard, as an engineer with only a Master's Degree rather than a Doctorate, sometimes gets snubbed or made the target of snide remarks (usually courtesy of Sheldon).
    • When Leonard dated Dr Stephanie, she just asked whether she's a "doctor-doctor", or "their kind of doctor", to which Leonard replied that she's a doctor doctor. Interestingly, medical doctor is a career that even arrogant Sheldon Cooper respects and he was satisfied that Leonard dated somebody useful who could treat his hypochondriac complaints.
    • However, Sheldon puts down Raj's girlfriend Emily, an M.D., because she's a dermatologist.
  • This is a frequent occurrence on Grey's Anatomy. Surgery is considered the best specialty. Cristina even says it's the "marines" of specialties in the first episode. The doctors look down on nurses, and everyone looks down on interns (especially the second batch). The surgeons themselves sometimes divide into their specialties even further, with Cardio and Neural at the top and Orthopedic and General at the bottom.
  • This is one of the central conflicts on Remedy. The members of a family all work in the same hospital. The father is the Chief of Medicine and the oldest daughter is also a doctor. The other daughter is a nurse and is dating a doctor. The son could have gone to medical school but is Brilliant, but Lazy and instead slacked off and developed a substance abuse problem. At the start of the series the father gets the son a job as a porter in hospital in the hopes that he will turn his life around and maybe go back to school and become a doctor. While the father has no real issue with one of his daughters being a nurse, the older sister tends to be a jerk to the nurses. The nurses do not like it when the doctors lord it over the them and give as good as they get. The younger daughter has fights with her boyfriend who as a doctor tends to take the other doctors' side in any doctor-nurse conflict. The porters dislike both the doctors and nurses because they tend to see the porters as unskilled labour rather then the people who keep the hospital going and clean up all the messy stuff generated by the patients.
  • The early seasons of All Saints were notably more dominated by nurses than doctors: the show revolved around Ward 17 and the Nursing Unit attached to it, with the main cast consisting of six nurses, two doctors and a ward clerk. A fairly common source of conflict was that the doctors assigned to other wards resented being paged upstairs to "the Garbage Ward". Perhaps the worst case is Bronwyn's father Professor Craig, a condescending bully with no respect for nurses or their diagnostic opinions. It also comes up with Jared's fiancé Amanda when she objects to his decision to leave medical school and stick with nursing. The show gradually moved away from this, with more doctors joining the regular cast and the premise being retooled into an ER clone, though even at the start of Season 8 the nurses outnumbered the doctors.
  • In The Walking Dead (2010), Herschel is treating Carl, Lori and Rick's son, who has been shot, and Lori asks him what kind of doctor he is. He says a vet, and she asks him if he means he was a military doctor. He replies, no, he's a veterinarian.
  • Seen frequently in Code Black:
    • William Campbell, Angels Memorial's Chief of Surgery, holds himself above the ER staff as he thinks that emergency medicine isn't much better than butchery. The ER staff, meanwhile, bristles at this as they perform urgent lifesaving medicine and patients would die if left to wait for Campbell to finish surgeries that meet his meticulous standards. Although the series usually sides with the people in the ER, Neal Hudson and Angus Leighton eventually switch specialties to surgery because they wish to practice medicine with a bit more finesse.
    • Neal Hudson has familial tension because his father is a neurosurgeon and respected researcher and considers emergency medicine to be beneath his son's capabilities. Neal's father ends up gaining a healthy amount of respect for emergency medicine after Neal is able to follow the scant clues available to figure out the mysterious cause of illness and death in a large number of people.

    Video Games 
  • Dr. Zed in Borderlands 2 is a Back-Alley Doctor and legitimately the only person on Pandora who wants to actually help you and make you healthy. His lack of a medical license is a Running Gag in the series. The fact that Doc Mercy, the very malevolent leader of a group of bandits, actually DOES have a practitioners license, is a bit of a sore spot for him.

    Western Animation 
  • In King of the Hill, after Bill falls into a diabetic coma, he's treated by a Dr. Jerk who tells him he's doomed to lose the use of both his legs from diabetes and that no amount of exercise or dieting will help since he's too fat and lazy to follow through with them. When a nurse suggests the name of a trainer who could help, he snarks, "You know what I learned in Medical School? Oh, right, you weren't there."

    Real Life 
  • Truth in Television, sadly. MD vs. DO is probably the most common, but other popular variants include surgeons vs. physicians, surgeons vs. anesthesiologists, and surgeons vs. surgeons (cardiothoracic vs. transplant, plastic vs. ophthalmic, etc)... It's probably less "MD Envy" and more "FACS Envy". In countries that have them, general practitioners may be looked down upon by specialists (who make more and spend more time in training) and different specialists may look down on each other as well.
  • There's much less of a rivalry nowadays as the training and practice of MDs and DOs have become almost identical. For all practical purposes, the two degrees are interchangeable (at least in the US, in other parts of the world, the standards for osteopaths vary wildly, ranging the full gamut from "basically the same as an MD" to "full-on quackery"). In fact, some DOs are concerned they're losing their separate identity.
  • Doctors of psychology (between four and ten years of studying nothing but the human brain and human behavior) really, really hate psychiatrists (MDs who study psychology for a few years after graduating). The former believe the latter are completely incompetent in their field and good only for prescribing drugs; the latter believe the former are for poor patients only, and sometimes that psychology as a non-medical discipline should be abolished, despite nearly every major breakthrough and development in the field coming from psychologists. It doesn't help that they are currently being run out of their own field by social workers (cheaper) and psychiatric nurse practitioners (can prescribe meds).
  • Most alternative medicine doctors tend to exhibit this trope, with their level of envy inversely proportional to the amount of science contained in their discipline.
  • Surgeons in the UK use the titles 'Mr', 'Mrs' or 'Miss' instead of the 'Dr' they use after initially qualifying as a medic. This is due to an old tradition, whereby if you go back a few hundred years, surgery was a trade to which one was apprenticed, rather than something one became after academic study.
  • Veterinary nurses are not aspiring or failed veterinarians. As with the doctor/nurse split, veterinary nursing is in fact an entirely different profession from veterinary medicine, since it's the nurses who run the labs, restrain the patients, handle all the bodily fluids, give the injections, insert tubes, control anaesthesia, set up IVs and report symptoms, lab test values and radiology results to the doctor. Don't ask your local vet nurse when they're going to veterinary school; they won't be amused.
  • Nurses versus doctors, particularly those in critical-care specialties (Intensive Care, Emergency, etc) and those with advanced-practice certifications (nurse practitioner, nurse midwife, nurse anesthetist). If you ever want to get your ass kicked, go ask an RN "If you're so smart, how come you aren't a doctor?" Nurses do 95% of the patient care tasks and handle all the medications in any given care setting, and have to be competent enough to keep track of everything that's going on with any given patient and be able to intervene rapidly when a patient's condition deteriorates.
    • Anyone who's ever been a patient in a hospital can attest that, while the doctor might check in on them for anywhere from five to thirty minutes a day, the bulk of their care, all day, every day, is delivered by three or four nurses on various shifts.
    • Nursing is commonly misunderstood as being a lesser form of a doctor, while in fact it's an entirely separate profession. True, nurses aren't qualified to do most of what a doctor does but a doctor is not qualified to do everything a nurse does either. It varies from country to country but one example that applies to many countries is that nurses have access to medicine rooms/medicin cabinets while doctors do not and nurses are the ones to prepare/mix medications (a good example being mixing iv antibiotics), since doctors prescribe the medications but the nurses are the ones to administer it (particularly in a care ward, it might work differently in the ER or OR). These days most doctors and nurses are well aware that they are two separate professions and work together as a team, relying on each other and trusting each other's competence.
  • There's a Double Standard going on. Since nursing is even today still seen as a woman's job, people tend to assume that female nurses are nurses because they want to be and male nurses are nurses because they weren't smart enough to be doctors.
  • Patients are sometimes insensitive to medical students. Since the stereotype is that women go into nursing and men go into medicine, some female medical students will still be asked when they will be done with nursing school, or why they are interested in nursing, while their male counterparts are standing right there (and everyone is in white coats). It wouldn't be so bad if the patients hadn't already asked the male students what fields of medicine they were going to pursue.
    • This is especially egregious since medical school admissions have been majority female (by a wide margin) for many years now, and the profession in general is more women than men and becoming moreso all the time.
  • Inverted in academia, specifically in countries where the medical doctorate is formally an actual doctoral degree, and yet considerably more low-effort than PhDs in other fields. Whereas a normal dissertation is usually a 100+ page document resulting from years of full-time research and publishing multiple peer-reviews papers, a medical dissertation is more akin to a term paper in length and impact. As a result, academic doctors often frown upon medical doctors.