The New York Times reported today that there is a growing number of nurses who are obtaining clinical doctorates in nursing and representing themselves as “doctors” to the chagrin of some physicians. This year there are some 153 nursing schools in the United States that will extend some 7,037 doctorate degrees in nursing. The physicians apparently see the potential for confusion among patients and the erosion of the status of being called “doctor.” Some physicians cling so closely to the term that they loose their identity without it. It is if they received the name “doctor” as their given first name. How many times has one been self introduced to a doctor who says “Hello, I am Dr. Smith.” There are some women married to physicians who refer to and address their husbands as “doctor.”
Their has of course been a balkanization of health care professional practices where professionals of less extensive training have obtained access to the holy grail of “doctor.” In addition, to nursing they include chiropractic, dentistry, podiatry, pharmacy, optometry, audiology, physical therapy. Most states of course will require these other “doctors” to provide some additional information to patients that they are not “doctors of medicine.”
There are those outside of the health care field that have usurped the term “doctor,” where there is little chance of confusion. Julius Irving and Dr. John come to mind. In truth the term doctor derives from the latin docere, “to teach.” Academic doctorate degrees were issued by universities in europe during the sixteenth century. Early apostles and other leaders of Christianity were also referred to as doctors. The first professional degree in the United States, an M.D., was conveyed by Columbia University in 1767, followed a hundred years later by the J.D. issued by Harvard University. Interestingly there is no M.D. issued in Japan, which only issues a J.D., also called Homu Hakushi.
Other than the potential for confusion and the diffusion of status of the term “doctor,” there are those who are concerned that these advance degrees issued to nurses do not necessarily result in an improvement of patient care, but will result in higher costs as more highly educated people will want more money, autonomy and prescriptive power.
If use of the term doctor results in those benefits you may find more lawyers cleaving to the term.