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Clinical Articles, News & Views

Public health doctors top New Year’s Honours list

The number one medical specialty to appear on the New Year’s Honours list in the last decade is public health medicine, according to research published recently in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.1 However, like other doctors, they will have to work for over 30 years before being recognised.

The study aimed to establish which specialties were more likely to be honoured, and how long doctors needed to practise before an honour is conferred.  Researchers led by Dr Shofiq Islam (Department of Surgery, Birmingham Heartlands Hospital) identified 417 doctors receiving honours between January 2000 and January 2011.

They were stratified into four subgroups: general practitioners (GPs), physicians, surgeons and others and sub-divided again into subspecialties. The top specialties for honours included general practice, paediatrics, psychiatry, public health medicine, pathology, geriatrics, endocrinology and haematology.

GPs head the league table of honours in terms of numbers. Dr Islam says: “This is perhaps not surprising given the fact that GPs collectively constitute the largest single group of the medical workforce. However, when this figure is converted to a percentage of all registered GPs, a relatively small proportion receives honours. Despite ranking fourth overall in absolute numbers, public health medicine comes out top in percentage terms”.

All doctors have to put in at least 30 years of hard graft before they can even expect to be considered for an honour, which the research defined as Knight or Dame, CBE, OBE or MBE. For GPs the mean number of years of clinical practice and subsequent conference of honours is slightly shorter at 31 years, while secondary care clinicians have to work another five years.

Dr Kamran Abbasi, editor of the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, said: “The British honours system is one of the oldest in the world and it is extremely competitive. Doctors, like other public sector workers, reach a stage in their careers when they begin to think about being recognised by our honours system. This study has produced two interesting findings. Don’t even think about a gong before you’ve worked for thirty years, and if an honour is your ultimate goal you might want to discard the glamour and scalpels of surgery for a world of hush-puppies and public health”.


1 Doctors recognized by the British honours system: A retrospective analysis of the last decade. Islam S, Cole JL, Taylor CJ. JRSM 2011;104:521–4. doi: 10.1258/jrsm.2011.110188.

Published on: January 10, 2012

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