“Doctor” Title For Nurses?

Nurses earning their doctorates are causing headaches for some in the medical profession. After years of study and successful defense of their dissertation, nurses who want to be called ‘doctor’ are getting push back from physicians who believe that title belongs only to someone who has earned a medical degree.

As more healthcare professions now require a Ph.D. as the minimum standard for jobs that previously regarded a Bachelor’s degree as the minimum education level, physicians are seeing the once highly-regarded title of ‘doctor’ watered down to include everyone from nurses to pharmacists to physical therapists – and they’re not happy. But why should a person who has worked hard and attained a superior level of education be prevented from using the title equated with their education?

It may come down to money.

Doctors fear nurses will want more autonomy in their roles, which leads to more power, including that to prescribe medications, without oversight by a physician. More autonomy and more power leads to more money. By obtaining a larger role in healthcare, nurses will be in line to take a bigger cut of the healthcare dollars pie. If a nurse can bill her time at a lower rate than a physician and still hand the patient a prescription at the end of the appointment, the higher cost physician becomes superfluous for routine care visits.

With healthcare reform requiring the formation of accountable care organizations (ACOs) to centralize care and reduce costs, physicians will compete with nurse practitioners for patients at the point of primary care. Currently 23 states permit nurse practitioners to practice without physician supervision most likely due to physician disinterest in working certain areas of the country, namely the mountainous West and upper New England regions. That number is expected to rise as more nurses earn their doctorates.

The Chairman of the American Academy of Family Physicians, Dr. Roland Goertz, explains that doctors are concerned that the word ‘doctor’ will confuse patients into thinking they’re consulting a physician when in fact, it may be a nurse practitioner making the decisions.

Doctors have rounded up a few allies for their cause and are pushing legislators to restrict the use of the word ‘doctor.’ Already in Arizona and Delaware nurses cannot use the title unless they immediately identify themselves as a nurse, and the New York Senate has proposed a bill barring nurses from using ‘doctor,’ even if they did obtain their Ph.D.

Perhaps physicians feel that a nurse practitioner’s six to eight years of study compared with a physician’s twelve or more should not earn them the right to use the title, but by 2015 the American Nurses Association, the credentialing body for schools of nursing, intends for all nurse practitioners and nurse anesthetists to earn a doctorate in order to be able to practice and serve patients in underserved areas of the country and at a lower cost than physicians.

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