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November 12, 1982

What Dear Really Means

JAMA. 1982;248(18):2321. doi:10.1001/jama.1982.03330180077044

"This is just oxygen, dear." "Take a deep breath, dear." "You're going to sleep now, dear." This is the beginning of another day in the operating rooms of a large teaching hospital. I am supervising three operating rooms, in which there are three anesthesia residents (all male) and three patients (all female). Every patient is called dear. Last night I read the recent commentary "Hi Lucille, This Is Dr Gold!" in The Journal (1982;247:2415). I realized, finally, why I dislike the use of dear for patients. Dear is demeaning.

Dear is usually a term of affection. It has other uses as an exclamation or an adjective. But dear in the medical world is used exclusively for female patients. Physicians would not call a male patient who was a corporate president dear. However, based on my experience, a female professional might well be. Older women and young girls are very often