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Legislating Semantics: Should a Nurse Be Called ‘Doctor’?

Legislating Semantics: Should a Nurse Be Called ‘Doctor’?
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Nurses introducing themselves as “doctor” may not be too common today, but by 2015 doctorates may be required of all nurse practitioners. The question is, will these highly educated nurses be able to use the title of “doctor” in a professional setting? If some physician opponents have their way, that distinction will remain with them.

In the context of healthcare, most patients perceive a “Dr.” to be a physician. There is concern that patients will be confused if other professionals they encounter in medical settings refer to themselves as doctors. And patients may see RNs holding doctorates as better or more qualified clinicians than other nurses; however, at present no practical or clinical differences exist between nurses who earn master’s degrees and those who attain doctorates.

According to news reports, physicians and their allies are pushing for legislation to restrict the use of the title of “doctor.” For example, a bill introduced in the New York State Senate would bar nurses from advertising themselves as doctors, no matter their degree. A law proposed in Congress would bar people from misrepresenting their education or license to practice.

However, those who support the free use of the title say that the term “doctor” refers to one who earns the highest academic degree in their field and that medicine “permanently borrowed” this title from academia. After all, the reasoning goes, if you’ve worked hard to earn the rights and privileges associated with a degree, you shouldn’t be denied the official title.

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