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Calling a Nurse ‘Doctor’ – Problem for Some

October 3rd, 2011  |  The Blog

The latest outbreak of obsessive semantics in the health care sector is the storm over calling nurses with doctorates “Doctor.” Apparently MDs don’t like the usage, and the result, as The New York Times reports, is pretty turgid stuff.

  • Nursing leaders say that their push to have more nurses earn doctorates has nothing to do with their fight for several decades? to give nurses more autonomy, money and prescriptive power through state legislatures.
  • Many physicians are suspicious and say that once tens of thousands of nurses have doctorates, they will seek more prescribing authority and money. Otherwise, they ask, what is the point?
  • Dr. Roland Goertz, the board chairman of the American Academy of Family Physicians, says that physicians are worried that losing control over the word “doctor,” a term that has defined their profession for centuries, will be followed by loss of control over the profession itself. He said that patients could be confused about the roles of various health professionals who all call themselves doctors.

The problem, however, is a bit more complex:

  • Modern nursing is a science, with a very large range of doctoral and postdoctoral qualifications. These qualifications are lawfully entitled to due recognition, which is granted under accreditation and forms the basis of the legal status of qualified people.
  • By academic tradition, a person having a doctorate is entitled to be called a “doctor.” A doctor of geology, dentistry, economics or any other profession is entitled to be called a “doctor,” which is the correct honorific.
  • Why should nurses with doctorates be the only profession not allowed to call themselves “doctors,” purely based on the preference of others? What possible basis is there for this sort of discrimination?
  • Prescribing authority isn’t given by an honorific. It’s given by licensing laws. The use or non-use of the word “doctor” has zero impact on the right to prescribe.

In some countries, it’s downright rude not to use the correct honorific when addressing a qualified person. It’s roughly the equivalent of saying “hey you!” to a professor or other academic in all countries when addressing them in their official capacity. Let’s hope this inelegant situation sorts itself out soon.

 

 

Paul Wallis
About Paul Wallis

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