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As we continue to celebrate National Nurse Practitioner Week, I felt we could not possibly leave this week without discussing the controversial issue that exists. The controversy: Are Nurse Practitioners Trying To Be Doctors?

Let’s just “cut right to the chase”.  I can answer this question very simply, and contritely: “NO”. If I had wanted to become a physician, then I would have gone to med school. As a little girl, I always wanted to be a nurse. I desired more to “get in the trenches”, and hold patients hands as they died, counsel grieving families, and care for acutely ill oncology patients. And, I am thrilled to say I have done just that – all the while getting married and having babies. Nursing was the profession I chose, and becoming a nurse practitioner has allowed me to treat the patient from a nursing aspect, while diagnosing, treating and prescribing.

It’s clear that for many physicians, the simple answer is YES. After all, why would doctors want additional prey in their territory? Even with the shortage of primary care physicians, doctors aren’t looking at nurse practitioners to help fill the void. The medical profession is quick to respond, and in some cases, with outlandish comments against a group of professionals who have earned an advanced degree.

The question has been posed to colleagues in the medical community. The question: Should nurse practitioners be called doctors (DNP)? Doug Farrago, MD, explains:

“It is about the word DOCTOR. If you want to be a doctor, then by all means, I implore you to become one. We need you. The training is a #### and; unfortunately, a gauntlet you have to get through. You don’t get that in NP school. You will be all the better for it, though. It really comes down to paying your dues. You just can’t call yourself one because you, well, just want to. Nurse practitioners came about to strengthen the healthcare system by making them “physician extenders” not “physician competitors”. By going this new route the NP group has made this relationship uncomfortable at best. I will get “hate email” over this but I didn’t do anything. The NPs are blatantly changing their strategy, demanding to be called doctors and are in direct competition with us yet I know they will rip me for pointing this out. The bottom line is that you are not a doctor. You are a nurse practitioner. It is a fact and it is not demeaning to say it. It is just a term. Get over it. I call myself the KING of medicine but just because I call myself one doesn’t mean I am one. Or does it?”

So, in my opinion, here in the lies the issue. Anyone that completes a doctoral degree has every right to call themselves, as well as others addressing them as “Doctor”. This is not limited to the medical profession. This is not a copyrighted term for physicians only. What do you call a Doctorate in Theology? “Doctor”. What do you call a Doctor of Pharmacy? You guessed it, “Doctor”. Doctorateis an academic degree or professional degree that in most countries represents the highest level of formal study or research in a provided field. Just because you have a doctorate and are addressed as “doctor”, does not mean you think you are a physician. This is the very same issue with Nurse Practitioners with a doctorate. They have every right to be addressed as “Doctor”, and in no way are saying they are physicians.

Doctororiginates from the Latin word (gen.: doctoris) which means teacher, it is abbreviated “Dr” or “Dr.” and it’s used as a designation for a person who has obtained a doctorate-level degree.

We need to tread the waters very carefully here. The last thing health care needs are fighting nurses and doctors. Both groups are professionals with advanced degrees and we need to recognize that each entity in health care is unique and special. Each profession holds a very specific place in the health care forum. While physicians aren’t the only doctors; does the issue become academic vs. institution. Is it about titles and territory? Or is it about the patient? It’s vital that in the 21st century and with changing health care policies, that it’s time that both doctors and nurses work together as professionals for the good of the patient. No matter the title and the number of degrees, it’s vital that communication with patients is transparent and that they know who you are, what you do, and are not misled in the process.