The nursing profession has come a long way over the years. However, there has been an ongoing debate about DNPs using the title doctor, most notably in a clinical setting. Many view this issue as problematic because MDs and DNPs have different educational realms to get their degrees. Surprisingly, multiple healthcare professionals we collaborate with daily have also obtained doctorates. An example that I often see at work are physical therapists or pharmacists. Still, they do not introduce themselves as doctors, merely physical therapists or pharmacists in a clinical setting. Recently, Bill California AB 765 was passed and stated that it is a misdemeanor for a person not licensed as a physician or surgeon to call themselves a doctor despite holding a doctorate, primarily due to not going through the extensive process that physicians go through to obtain their MD degree. Nurse practitioners are considered mid-level providers and must state that they are NPs to ensure patient transparency. As nurses, we are patient advocates and fight to ensure transparency in our care. Many patients are not aware of what a doctorate-prepared nurse practitioner entails. Using the title doctor in an academic setting is appropriate, so DNPs can later explain and educate people more about their title. While in a clinical setting, there are still more hurdles to combat for DNPs to use the title Doctor. DNPs should introduce themselves as nurse practitioners in a clinical setting to avoid confusing patients and legal issues. If DNPs from other states use the title, Doctor, it is best to follow up that introduction with education on what that title means.
The controversy surrounding using the “Doctor” title among physicians and nurses with doctoral degrees stems from differing perspectives on the historical context, professional roles, and patient communication. Physicians, particularly medical doctors (MDs), have historically been associated with the title “Doctor” in patient care. The title has been closely linked to the medical profession, and many patients instinctively associate it with a medical doctor.
Nurses who hold doctoral degrees, such as Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) or Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), also earn the right to use the “Doctor” title based on their advanced education and expertise. Nurses with doctoral degrees can use the “Doctor” title in academic and research contexts while clarifying their role in clinical settings to patients. Apparent and standardized credentialing processes can help patients differentiate between healthcare professionals based on their qualifications and roles.
In essence, the controversy surrounding the “Doctor” title reflects the evolving nature of healthcare and the need for clear communication and mutual respect between professionals. Balancing patient understanding, professional pride, and collaborative care is essential to navigate this complex issue.
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