The debate rages, fueled by the AMA’s fears and deep money pockets, to stop anyone else in the healthcare profession from using the title “doctor” when introducing themselves in clinical settings. The battle has picked up steam because nurse practitioners are now required to have a doctorate in order to practice. The AMA and state medical associations are actually wasting resources to get legislation passed saying a nurse practitioner has to clarify that she/he is a nurse and not a medical doctor. Will the next step be suing nurse practitioners for fraud if the title is used?
The AMA is saying it is confusing for the public if someone other than a medical doctor introduces themselves as a doctor. This premise assumes that a nurse practitioner wants to be seen as a doctor. This is simply not true. Having been trained as a nurse practitioner, I never see myself as a doctor. I have never represented myself as a doctor nor do I want to. I know the difference and I respect it.
I trained in New Mexico where nurse practitioner’s have independent practice. I know that is a can of worms because the AMA also insists all nurse practitioners should be supervised. Here is my thinking on that. Put yourself in rural New Mexico and the nearest hospital is two hours away and the only clinic in the area is run by a team of nurse practitioners. Do you think a patient cares about the title of who is do the treating? Or do they care more that they will get treatment for their diabetes, heart disease, everyday coughs and colds and asthma? Many of the patients referred to the team as “my nurse practitioners.”
A nurse practitioner is trained to have a network of specialists to contact and refer to when needed, even in rural settings. If we take a moment to look at the research, it has shown repeatedly that the outcomes in primary care are the same for doctors and nurse practitioners. I have never read a story or heard of an incident where a nurse practitioner represented his/herself to a patient as a doctor and caused harm or fraud.
With all the needs of the healthcare system and the people who need service, how can this be the debate? This is not going to provide a solution to our healthcare needs. Will it fix our healthcare system if only doctors are called doctors? Let me think for a moment… no, it only serves as a distraction from the real issues.