It's tragic how people treat doctors in this day and age. The lack of respect for the education and training medical professionals go through, both before and after unfortunate ethical transgressions, is downright shameful, and it has to stop right now.

After all, I didn't spend two evenings a week for a month and a half attending a medical license reinstatement class so you could call me "mister."

Yet just this morning, a cashier at the coffee shop in the hospital I can now legally work at again actually said it right to my face. "Here's your change, mister." Exact words. As if I didn't just drop $1,200 on that board-certified course to earn back the title "doctor" after the regrettable events of last May.

Where does he get off?

Am I the world's best doctor? Absolutely not. But I am nowhere near the worst, either. And I'm certainly not the first to accidentally remove the wrong kidney and then have to be restrained by orderlies when the family has the nerve to question my excuses. So what makes them—or anyone with a loved one whom I may or may not have permanently injured through negligence or outright drunkenness—think they have the right to refer to me as one of their own?

It's not like they drove 45 miles every Tuesday and Thursday night to share a community college classroom with other disgraced physicians,† did they?

Now that I've relearned the basic attitudes and morals that should act as an obvious guide for someone in the medical profession, I expect to be called "doctor" in every circumstance. And if you disagree, then just take a look at what's hanging on my wall: that diploma, the medical license with the large red "X" stamped over it, and that other, smaller license that states I can practice medicine under certain probationary terms and conditions for the next 90 days.

That's right. According to the great state of South Carolina's Board of Medical Examiners, I should be afforded the honor and courtesy of my position, even if you're part of that class-action suit pertaining to the tainted blood. The lady who accused me of sexual misconduct six years ago had the respect to call me Dr. Berstyn when she pointed me out from the witness stand. So should you.

But it's bigger than me and the now two separate occasions upon which I've taken the Hippocratic oath. It's about tradition. The title of doctor is steeped in history. It is a recognition of years of hard work, and it lets the community know that this particular person has paid the $25,000 in fines required by the courts. Even if his lawyer still thinks he can get that reduced to $15,000. So when I run across people like this coffee shop worker, it makes me sad, because it shows just how much our society has fallen.

You see, not being called "doctor" doesn't just affect me. It affects everyone in our hallowed trade who ever toiled for years in medical school or took a bribe so someone would be moved higher on the organ donation list. If one of us gets caught in the resulting sting operation, then, in a way, we all get caught in the resulting sting operation.

You could say that the ethics class I was forced to take has made me a better doctor. It reminded me that signing every sheet in your prescription pad and leaving it in a spot where it will inevitably disappear and be replaced with an envelope full of money is not only legally wrong—it's also morally wrong. I know that now. The teacher, Dr. Brian, even helped me see that my patients were people with feelings, no matter how little money they make or how ignorant they are about medicine. I wish I could go back in time and redo those out-of-court settlement meetings with that babyless couple. There'd be a lot less swearing and threats of physical violence on my part.

I'm just a different person now.

So, yes, the mandatory medical license reinstatement ethics class was difficult, and sometimes humiliating, but it was worth it. The nine months I endured without a license were very dark indeed. Not because I couldn't practice medicine—which I definitely did—but because people were not technically required to call me "doctor." Now they are, and by God, I will make sure they say it loud and clear.

Unless they're one of those poor kids whose tongues I accidentally removed.