Nurses, doctors, and doctorates

Apparently some nurses now want to be called doctors:

With pain in her right ear, Sue Cassidy went to a clinic. The doctor, wearing a white lab coat with a stethoscope in one pocket, introduced herself.

“Hi. I’m Dr. Patti McCarver, and I’m your nurse,” she said. And with that, Dr. McCarver stuck a scope in Ms. Cassidy’s ear, noticed a buildup of fluid and prescribed an allergy medicine.

It was something that will become increasingly routine for patients: a someone who is not a physician using the title of doctor.

Dr. McCarver calls herself a doctor because she returned to school to earn a doctorate last year, one of thousands of nurses doing the same recently. Doctorates are popping up all over the health professions, and the result is a quiet battle over not only the title “doctor,” but also the money, power and prestige that often comes with it.

As more nurses, pharmacists and physical therapists claim this honorific, physicians are fighting back. For nurses, getting doctorates can help them land a top administrative job at a hospital, improve their standing at a university and win them more respect from colleagues and patients. But so far, the new degrees have not brought higher fees from insurers for seeing patients or greater authority from states to prescribe medicines.

I guess the lack of a similar discussion around PhD space physicists only proves how unimportant my field really is. In all seriousness, I’m interested in seeing more details of the quoted studies. Is it really true that nurses are “perfectly capable of recognizing a vast majority of patient problems?”

If the dental field is any analogue, I know that my teeth are often cleaned just fine by a dental hygienist. Apart from fields like neurosurgery, I suspect much of medicine is similar.


  1. I think Nurse Practitioners are allowed to prescribe medicines and assist in routine diagnosis, though not performing procedures. If he/she has a Doctorate to boot, I say why not.

  2. I am from the EU, and I must admit I am confused by the education system at Scottish universities. However, I (and probably) get my joint honors degree (Master of Arts) at the University of Glasgow, and I would continue my studies after obtaining Ph.D. But I can apply directly for the title of doctor (my choice would be one of the British American universities), or I have to get a Masters degree in Research in the first place?
    Cliff Merchant MD

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