What Do I Call You Now?

Her inquiring eyes looked down on me, mixed with confusion and curiosity.

“Do we call you Doctor now, Mrs. Christian?”

It wasn’t long ago those same eyes looked up at me, instead of down. As a close friend of my daughter, I had watched her grow and thrive, along with the rest of the gaggle wandering through our house on a warm spring evening.

Cracking a smile, I replied: “No, darling. You can always call me Christian.”

My most honest child quickly quipped, “Then what did you go to school for?”

A rapid inhale caught in my chest, and I realized I didn’t have a good answer. Thankfully, their attention was quickly captured by something infinitely more interesting.

Six years before this evening, The Engineer started an MBA program to further diversify his skill set and advance his career. This was in addition to the PhD he completed 9 months into parenthood. When we discussed my return to school, we assumed it had to be simpler than what we had attempted as brand new parents.

We were mostly right. School with less dependent dependents was manageable. But that didn’t completely answer the question of why I returned to school, and why, at its completion, I had little interest in people calling me Dr. Simmers.

With more reflection, some things became more clear, though I wonder if clarity will be what I continue to strive towards in the years ahead.

I’ve spent my entire career in an academic institution, with roles as a bedside nurse, a clinical instructor, a classroom professor, a nurse practitioner, and a clinical integration specialist. After I spent enough time in academics, I started to feel a little like this…

Finishing my doctoral degree had always been a “polite requirement” to continue my academic life, and truly, was something that I wanted to complete. While there’s nothing pleasant associated with returning to school mid-life, I was motivated by the knowledge that I was laying the groundwork for a lifetime of positively contributing to the healthcare of vulnerable populations. This was the fuel that kept the fire burning.

I kept waffling over the importance of how I’m addressed. Without any strong convictions, I responded awkwardly to any questions about it. Thankfully, my great-aunt set me straight.

“If I had the option to advance my education, I would have signed Doctor to everything I could.”

Recognizing that I had, in fact, been given the gift of an education, I settled into a comfortable middle ground. To my students, Dr. Simmers is the baseline. While I work in a place that values experience and expertise, being addressed with the appropriate credentials seems to honor the work of all those who came before me, who didn’t have the opportunities presented that I’ve been fortunate enough to receive.

To my patients, I’ll always go by my first name, since I view our relationship as a collaboration without a hierarchy attached.

To everyone else who doesn’t call me Mom, Cece or Christian will be my name, always. If we’re feeling fancy, or you really want something, I guess you can put the Mrs. in there. Just like taking off your shoes in the foyer, do whatever makes you comfortable. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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