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Doctoring the ‘Doctor’ title?


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There has been much scuttlebutt throughout the online health care community. The divisive ‘physician versus advance practice nurse’ debate has gained quite a bit of steam thanks to a recent article by the New York Times titled: When the Nurse Wants to Be Called ‘Doctor’. A great big thank you and ‘shout out’ to the NY Times. I think this conversation needed to continue.
Over the course of the past several days I have been keeping a log of responsive articles (please see the end of this blog post for articles of interest). I have taken an interest to this particular debate, since I am a current Nurse Practitioner student who will eventually hold a Doctorate of Nursing Practice (some years down the road).

I for one do not have a solution (sorry). However, I do feel this debate is based on valid rationale that has gone awry.

Yes, I firmly believe we as practitioners should not mislead our patients. The social stigma and public knowledge that follows the title of ‘Doctor’ can lead one to believe they are in fact a medical doctor, ergo a physician. The reality is that not all ‘Doctors’ are ‘Physicians’. We need to remind ourselves that the PhD has been around for quite a long time, and that there are doctorate degrees in many other health care related disciplines.

To quote Dr. Kevin Pho over at Kevin MD:

“Those who earn a doctorate degree, whether it be in nursing, pharmacy, or psychology, deserve to be called “doctor.” Period.”

So in defense of Nurse Practitioners with their DNP, they are not misrepresenting themselves. They’ve earned the title. But it’s the intention in which the title is used that makes all the difference, in my humble opinion.

Proudly conveying your earned title without proper clarification and intention can easily be mistaken for deception and misdirection. In the original NY Time article the NP introduced herself as ‘doctor’ and followed up with “I’ll be your nurse”. No misdirection there.

I think this is the source of the physician community’s angst, and disapproval. If the NP is making an empty attempt at representing themselves as a  physician with their numerous years of education and rigorous training, then yes, I too would be on the defense. Even though I am not a practicing NP (a mere student), I don’t believe there are NP’s out there that would outright misdirect or misrepresent themselves as someone they are not. If they are, then shame on them. They are not only damaging their professional credit and earned title, but they are potentially placing their patients in harms way.

I know in the end, both physicians and advanced practice nurses share the same goal of optimal patient outcomes. Splitting hairs over entitlement and attempting to ‘strip’ someone of a title that have rightfully earned is just a waste of energy and a misuse of vital resources.

Articles of interest:

When the Nurse Wants to be Called ‘Doctor’

Should medical students be introduced as Doctor?

Calling yourself Doctor and what that now means

Turf Wars

Universal board certification can solve the Doctor Nurse controversy

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