Home Forums The Controversy of the DOCTOR Title “The Controversy of the DOCTOR Title”

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    Susan Engle

    Advanced Practice Nurse must pay 20K for implying she was a doctor. Do we have the authority to use the title Doctor, or Dr. when we hold a doctorate degree? This would include Ph.D., DNP, DPT, and so on. The focus is the use of Dr. What regulation is in your state board of nursing jurisdiction about Ph.D. and DNP-prepared registered nurses using Dr. in any setting, academic or practice? Has there been any conversation with your legislatures on this matter? What do we need to do to give doctorally prepared nurses the authority to use Dr.?


    CHAPTER 5. Medicine [2000 – 2529.6] ( Chapter 5 repealed and added by Stats. 1980, Ch. 1313, Sec. 2. )

    ARTICLE 3. License Required and Exemptions [2050 – 2079] ( Article 3 added by Stats. 1980, Ch. 1313, Sec. 2. )

    (a) Any person who uses in any sign, business card, or letterhead, or, in an advertisement, the words “doctor” or “physician,” the letters or prefix “Dr.,” the initials “M.D.,” or any other terms or letters indicating or implying that he or she is a physician and surgeon, physician, surgeon, or practitioner under the terms of this or any other law, or that he or she is entitled to practice hereunder, or who represents or holds himself or herself out as a physician and surgeon, physician, surgeon, or practitioner under the terms of this or any other law, without having at the time of so doing a valid, unrevoked, and unsuspended certificate as a physician and surgeon under this chapter, is guilty of a misdemeanor.

    (b) Notwithstanding subdivision (a), any of the following persons may use the words “doctor” or “physician,” the letters or prefix “Dr.,” or the initials “M.D.”:

    (1) A graduate of a medical school approved or recognized by the board while enrolled in a postgraduate training program approved by the board.

    (2) A graduate of a medical school who does not have a certificate as a physician and surgeon under this chapter if he or she meets all of the following requirements:

    (A) If issued a license to practice medicine in any jurisdiction, has not had that license revoked or suspended by that jurisdiction.

    (B) Does not otherwise hold himself or herself out as a physician and surgeon entitled to practice medicine in this state except to the extent authorized by this chapter.

    (C) Does not engage in any of the acts prohibited by Section 2060.

    (3) A person authorized to practice medicine under Section 2111 or 2113 subject to the limitations set forth in those sections.

    (Amended by Stats. 2017, Ch. 775, Sec. 22. (SB 798) Effective January 1, 2018.)

    To read the accusation against her RN license go to http://www.rn.ca.gov license verification.

    This topic has been a concern for many DNP students and graduates for years. It continues to be a source of concern and controversy. Please share your thoughts and insights here so we may all learn from each other.

    22CV 0589 CC Complaint For Injunction, Civil Penalties And Other Equitable Relief




    APRNs who go through a rigorous doctorate program, complete a DNP project and graduate as doctors should be allowed to use the title doctor or Dr. because they have truly earned that title. The same applies to individuals with a Ph.D., DPT, PharmD, PsyD, DC, etc. However, it is crucial that those individuals also clarify to their patients that they are not physicians (MD or DO). For example, a family nurse practitioner with a DNP would say that they are Dr. Jane Doe, a family nurse practitioner, so it is apparent to the patient that they are not a medical doctor. More and more people are pursuing higher education and should be allowed to state their titles loud and proud. If individuals introduce themselves appropriately and clearly for patients to understand, patients will not be confused, nor will it interfere with the care provided. As a future DNP graduate, I look forward to sharing my earned degree and professional identification with my patients, the community, and so on. As DNP graduates, we must come together to speak up and share more about our doctoral education with the public since many people may not be familiar with the DNP degree and its role in nursing. Thank you for creating this post!

    Susan Engle

    Hello Elizabeth,

    Thank you for your reply, and congratulations. Many DNP graduates are APRNs, while others are not. I completed my DNP degree work in Health Systems Leadership. Advanced practice nurses are codified in regulation in the Nursing Practice Act. Including doctoral-prepared nurses as Advanced Academic Prepared Nurses in law would be interesting.

    • This reply was modified 1 year, 3 months ago by Susan Engle. Reason: added a tag

    Hi Susan! I appreciate the fact that you brought up this topic to discuss on this forum. I think it is so crucial for us to be able to openly talk about this. Personally, I believe that anyone who has put in the work to achieve and the honor of receiving an earned doctorate degree should have the right to be called “Dr.” whether it be in medicine, anthropology, computer science, etc. However, in the healthcare field, it should also come with the clarification of the role of that specific “Dr.”, or healthcare provider. Upon reading the article, I do find it wrong that the DNP in question had utilized the title of “Dr.” and implied that she was a medical doctor, rather than a Nurse Practitioner with her Doctorate’s degree. Although medical doctors may be against it since DNP graduates are encroaching on their territory of being able to be called “Dr.”, I think they should recognize that DNP graduates play a vital role in the evolving healthcare system we find ourselves in. DNPs should be legally allowed to use that title, although I will admit that we should provide that necessary clarification.

    Natalie Ferguson

    Thank you for bringing up this topic. I recently graduated with my DNP degree and I am extremely proud and address myself as Dr. Natalie Ferguson a doctorally trained Family Nurse Practitioner. This is very clear and there is no misunderstanding. If Ph.D.s and other doctorally trained individuals are able to use their title, why can’t we? I worked extremely hard for this degree and I intend to use it every chance I get. I am proud to be an FNP, proud to be a DNP, and proud of all the other DNP who have gone before and who will come after me.


    Hi Susan,

    Thank you so much for sharing your insight and all the information. I agree that this is a concern for the DNP graduate, having worked hard to earn the degree it seems only fair that the DNP should be allowed to use the title of doctor. I think the main concern does stem from confusing the patients in clinics and hospitals but as previously mentioned this can be corrected by using the appropriate title when introducing oneself to the patient. So rather then, “hello my name is Dr. Smith and ill be taking care of you today” instead shift to “Hello my name is Dr. Smith I will be your nurse practitioner or nurse midwife or CRNA whatever the case may be. However, there was a case in California where a nurse practitioner and DNP with an online social media account was referring to herself as “Dr. Sarah” although she did in several instances indicate that she was a nurse practitioner she still was fined heavily for fraud and is now in danger of losing her license. I believe there needs to be a shift in healthcare especially with a wider variety of professions, not just nursing, that requires a doctorate degree for practice. Why do physicians or medical doctors own the exclusive rights to use the term “doctor” in clinical settings?

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