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Q: OK, if I promise to say "physicians," not "doctors," may I go to the "physician's office?" May I "take my loved one to the physician?"

A: No. Whether you see a physician, nurse or some other primary care professional, you should go to the "advanced practitioner's office," "primary care provider's office" or the "health provider's office." Today, non-physician practitioners are increasingly assuming primary health care duties that used to be the exclusive province of physicians, and doing a great job. (See more.) Our language should reflect this important change in modern health care.

Perhaps the most prominent of these non-physicians are the nation's 200,000 Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs), who provide expert care that numerous studies have shown is at least as good as that of physicians. Important types of APRNs who provide primary care include Family Nurse Practitioners, Pediatric Nurse Practitioners, Adult Nurse Practitioners, and Certified Nurse Midwives. APRNs typically have master's degrees in nursing, and they may practice on their own or in collaboration with physicians.

The Center and its supporters recently persuaded the U.S. Department of Human Services to reconsider the name of HHS' prominent "Take a Loved One to the Doctor Day" campaign. We hope HHS will choose a new name that reflects the fact that APRNs are increasingly providing vital primary care to the same at-risk minority populations the campaign targets.

Language is powerful. If members of the public (including career seekers and health care decision makers) are to understand the vital role APRNs play in modern care, and by extension the important contributions of nurses generally, we believe we must take care in how we describe health care, in formal settings and in everyday conversation.

last updated: February 10, 2005

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