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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 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 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 (even a "male nurse", but don't use that term because it's kind of offensive) 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.

Examples of MD Envy include:


  • In Bill Cosby's "Tonsils" routine from the Wonderfulness album, the young Cosby addresses an orderly: "Hey, you! Almost a doctor!"

Comic Books

  • Subverted by Marvel Comics' Night Nurse, who is actually a physician with what Doctor Strange jokingly suggests might be a "Florence Nightingale fetish." She insists it's only because "Night Nurse" 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.
  • 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.
  • Speaking of 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.
  • Lampshaded in Star Trek IV the Voyage Home: 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!!"



  • 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.

Live-Action TV

  • 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 is ill:

 Rachel: It's so weird to see Dad [who is a doctor] like this. You never imagine doctors getting sick.

Ross: And yet, we do.

    • 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.
    • Best one is where they are at a hospital

  Ross: And I'm Doctor Ross Geller.

Rachel: Ross, please, this is a hospital, okay? That actually means something here.

    • During his parents' anniversary, it becomes apparent where Ross gets this.

 Ross: I'm Ross Gellar.

Father: [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".
    • Also, 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.
    • And 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.

    • And 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.
  • Averted in the Bottle Episode "Secrets And Lies" of ER, where a nurse reveals she originally studied to be an MD but then switched to nursing 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 the character becomes a doctor anyway a couple of seasons later.
  • Seinfeld - Elaine dates an intern who's repeatedly failed his medical licensing exam. She insists on calling him "doctor" anyway so she can say she's dating a doctor. Later on, Elaine even helps him study for the exam to make him an actual doctor only for him to pass and dump her immediately afterward, under the rationale that as a doctor, he deserves better.
    • 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 dermatologist, with him claiming the whole profession is "just put some aloe on it" and referring to her as "pimple-popper MD". It backfires on him big time when he learns that dermatologists also treat skin cancer. For the record, she was also insufferable about her career and spent a whole dinner date talking about how great it felt to save lives for a living.
  • In Coupling Jane claimed her new boyfriend was a surgeon. He was actually a butcher.
  • 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.
  • In one episode of Bones Temprance 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 M.D.s, which makes sense, what with an academic doctorate taking way more time and often being much harder to obtain than a medical one.
  • In the Doctor Who episode "Amy's Choice", Rory is the village doctor, as he's always dreamed of being more than "just" a nurse.
  • There are a lot of friction between doctors and the Ambulance crew in Sirens, 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.

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)... now that I think about it, it's probably less "MD Envy" and more "FACS Envy."
    • The whole business of MD vs. DO can get particularly nasty. My uncle (an MD who has to deal with a large "osteopathic" hospital in the next town) makes a ridiculous number of jokes about how DOs are particularly skilled at one particular type of surgery: "The separation of a patient from his money." As for the DOs, they tend to just be bitter about their lack of respect.
    • There's much less of a rivalry nowadays as the training and practice of M Ds and D Os have become almost identical. For all practical purposes, the two degrees are interchangeable (at least in the US and most of Canada). In fact, some D Os are concerned they're loosing their separate identity
    • Ironically, biochemistry and organic chemistry PhDs probably know more about how medicines actually work than MDs.
      • It would be ironic if that's what an MD would need to know. Thankfully, their job is to figure out what is wrong with people, and then check a list for the most appropriate chemical. A physicist may know how a violin works, but at a concert you want someone that can play it.
        • It is still surprising to many people that physicians aren't necessarily experts in the theoretical side of medicine. Of course they know quite a bit, but research doctors and biochemists (among others) know much more. People also tend to expect doctors to know much more than they usually do about topics outside of their specialty, such as nutrition or pharmacology (unless of course that is their specialty).
      • Not to mention that you DO study a lot of biochemistry and physiology in medical school. Not so much organic chemistry, though. That falls more on the pharmacist's lap.
        • Still kind of is, given how pharmacists balk at the prescriptions given out by MDs.
    • 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 one or two years.) The former believes the latter are completely incompetent in their field and good only for prescribing drugs; the latter believes the former are for poor patients only, and sometimes that psychology as a non-medicinal discipline should be abolished, despite nearly every major breakthrough and development in the field coming from psychologists since the days of Jung.
      • But Jung was a psychiatrist.
      • Plus there are neurologists and neuropsychologists who tend to less be rivals with the others than annoyed people confuse them with psychiatrists.
      • Psychiatry residence is four years here, not two.
        • Four year psychiatry residences are effectively two years studying, two years internship. People with a Bachelor of Psychology do four years of studying, then either postgrad study or a two year internship, so they still have fair reason for disdain.
          • They spend those four years studying the field of psychology. Which while overlapping in some places with psychiatry, it's not the same. Also, medical school programmes usually include both a Psychology subject and a Psychiatry one.
      • As noted above, other physicians tend to criticize them for the opposite reason. Too much time studying Freud and such, and not enough time studying *real doctor* things.
      • But even then, not everyone that goes into psychology wants to be a therapist.
  • 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.
  • Pick a veterinary nurse. Ask them, "Oh, so when are you going to become a veterinarian?" Run away very quickly. Veterinary nursing, it must be emphasized, is an entirely different profession from veterinary medicine, since it's the nurses who run the labs, the nurses who restrain the patients, the nurses who handle all the bodily fluids, the nurses who give the injections and insert tubes and control anaesthesia and set up IVs and the nurses who report symptoms, lab test values and radiology results to the doctor. They are not "just people who are too stupid to become vets."
    • This goes for human nurses as well, 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?" As above, 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.