A History Lesson: The Doctor

“With the novelty of being a pioneer, one has the responsibility to lead the way,”

(Chism, 2013, p233).

Certainly I anticipate a few perplexed individuals, even a few who may be offended, at my using the title of a doctor when the day comes that I complete my doctoral program. There are many professions who utilize this title, not just the medical doctor; however, it is the Nurse Doctor seems to ruffle feathers or cause awkward inquiries.

The Term Doctor

The Latin word docere was the term from which the English word doctor originated, meaning “to teach,” with “doctrine.” Wikipedia (2013) defines doctor as, “it is used as a designation for a person who has obtained a doctorate-level degree.” The doctorate degree was more commonly held by those who taught at the university level, and then the clergy, even attorneys used the title of doctor to demonstrate their academic achievement. In the 12th century, professional doctorates were beginning to be obtained and those prepared in medicine began moving into the community (as opposed to most doctors having previously been in the university) and this transition is assumed to be why the general public began associating the doctoral degree, or title of “doctor,” with medicine. This term however, refers to any person with a doctoral degree, in any field, not a specific profession (Chism, 2013).

Certainly the American Medical Association (AMA) has taken a stance against nurses using the title doctor, stating nurses should be very clear they are not physicians and even that universities should be very clear what types of doctoral programs they are offering so as not to confuse the student into believing their education will offer them the training of a physician.

How arrogant!! “It would be safe to assume that when nurses apply to a Doctor of Nursing Practice program, they are well aware of the discipline in which they are getting their degree. After all, nurses went to college, too” (Chism, 2013, p238). And to think that nurses would want to be confused as physicians… that misrepresentation would essentially shut down my practice, as my clients are in fact seeking an alternative option to mainstream healthcare. The AMA’s argument is illogical and oppressive. I could not be more proud to be a Nurse Midwife.

While the AMA would like to monopolize on the title of the doctor, the U.S. Court of Appeals has ruled in previous situations that boycotting another profession would violate the Sherman Antitrust Act. Restraint of Trade is illegal.

Nurses seem to face the brunt of opposition from the medical profession although our profession certainly isn’t the only healthcare field using such title. The academic title is also recognized in the Doctor of Osteopath, Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD), Doctor of Podiatry, Doctor of Psychology, Doctor of Physical Therapy, Doctor of Chiropractics, Doctor of Dentistry, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, Doctor of Audiology (AudD) and others.

The unfortunate or maybe fortunate truth is that while most Nurse Midwives do not hold a doctoral degree, many carry a credit load equivalent to a doctoral degree in other health professions. When I complete this degree, I will have nearly fifteen years of education and five academic degrees (one dual degree).

In The Doctor of Nursing Practice (2013), the author Lisa Chism interviews Dr. Francis Jackson, asking, “What is your opinion regarding the reaction we are seeing to nurses using the title ‘doctor’?”

Dr. Jackson replies, “I feel the reaction is a smoke screen for the real issues. Advanced practice registered nurses are viewed as competitors and an economic threat to physicians. Hospitals have had problems with nurses using the title “doctor” because doctors have a problem with it. Doctors are considered the hospital’s customers and nurses are employees” (p252).

As new DNP students we are warned about becoming isolated in our field, even socially, but to stand up for our profession and educate the community. We are encouraged to use the title doctor but more importantly, we are reminded that our contributions will impact our profession and as those are disseminated, perhaps our title will no longer be questioned (Chism, 2013).

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