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Nurses Don't Want To Be Doctors

Rebecca Hendren, for HealthLeaders Media, October 4, 2011

As a child addressing thank you notes for birthday gifts, I was perplexed by the one relative whose address began "Dr. and Mrs. John Doe." I knew he was not a Doctor and yet he was called doctor. My mother explained he was a doctor, but not a "Doctor," and you can imagine the emphasis on the second doctor.

This was my first introduction to the confusing world of honorifics and it hasn't become any simpler since.

We all know that the title "doctor" refers both to physicians with medical degrees and to people who have been awarded a doctorate in a certain subject. These days patients often visit "the doctor" and are seen by a nurse who has an advanced practice degree and whose title includes the right to use the honorific term doctor.

Physician groups have been voicing concerns that the growing numbers of nurses who are also doctors are confusing for patients. Nurses are concerned that advanced practice professionals who have received doctorates in their field are afforded the proper respect and receive the designation that advanced study and knowledge is usually afforded in other fields.

Patients are left in the middle. Most patients grasp the differences between a physician and a nurse practitioner (or a physician assistant). Where many patients become confused is when the advanced practice nurse is referred to as doctor. As in, "Hello Mr. Green, I'm your nurse, Dr. Blue."

Nurse practitioners who use the title with patients in care settings makes some physicians apoplectic. Their reaction leaves advanced practice nurses fuming. It leaves me perplexed. Why would any nurse want patients to think he or she was a medical doctor?

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6 comments on "Nurses Don't Want To Be Doctors"


Robert Dimick (11/26/2011 at 11:06 PM)
This lady is "not big on titles", obviously because she wants to use the title of "doctor" for those who have not earned it. If she is "not big on titles" why not just refer to all nurses, APN, or otherwise, as "Miss"? Let's see how popular that title is with the nurses!

Karl Vanhooten (10/7/2011 at 11:33 AM)
I love to address a colleague I have who is an MD, MPH, and PhD as Doctor, Master, Doctor. Really ticks him off. C'mon people; get over yourselves and just take care of the patient. MDs had dibs on the title in healthcare over 100 years ago, long before academic PhDs entered the patient care arena. Should I call a retired PhD who volunteers as a gray lady, Doctor Jones?

M Luttrell, PhD, NP (10/6/2011 at 4:27 PM)
I must agree with previous post[INVALID]I believe the issue is more about age-old turf protection and politics, and perhaps some defense out of fear of more health care professionals earning higher credentials. All doctorates are academic credentials and from different disciplines. The title denotes a basic respect for the knowledge obtained and the discipline required to earn that terminal degree achievement, no matter the subject area. I did not realized that those with MDs have wholesale ownership of the title "doctor"(!). Excellent, team driven, cost-effective and evidence-driven patient care is what matters, not such petty title battles. Let's put this energy into what's important. To the MDs so concerned I continue to say professional respect is a two-way exchange. To review some US medical history: it wasn't that long ago when many informally, lay-trained individuals practiced medicine under the title of "doctor" without the MD in hand ...