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Should we refer to physicians as "doctors?"

The media, like most people, often uses the term "doctor" to mean "physician." Although this usage is deeply ingrained, it gives many people the impression that physicians are the only health care workers who can earn doctoral degrees.

In fact, nurses and other health care professionals can and do earn doctorates. The use of the term "doctor" to mean "physician" also adds to what some feel is the excessively high regard the medical profession enjoys relative to other health care professions.

Medicine is a vital field, but some feel that placing it far above other equally important health professions obstructs patient care, health care reform, and of course the other professions. Many feel that this is an important factor in the nursing shortage.

In particular, if parents and teachers do not realize that nurses can earn Ph.D.'s in nursing and contribute at the doctoral level, it is less likely that they will encourage their best and brightest students to enter the field.

We urge everyone not to use the term "doctor" when "physician" is meant. In addition, if any health care worker is to be honored with the special title "Doctor" (as in "Dr. Smith"), we recommend that the title be used for all health care workers with doctorates, including nurses.

Also see: "Are Nurses With a Doctor of Nursing Practice Degree Called 'Doctor'?" by Tracy Klein, RN, MS, FNP