This is a title that when paired with one’s last name makes a powerful introduction.  It elicits immediate respect and also seems to come with the expectation that you can have my chair.

What does it mean to be called Doctor? Where did that title originate and for whom was the honor originally bestowed upon?

Doctor was the title and honor bestowed on individuals dedicated to a career of professional education and who had earned the respect of their peers through publication and teaching.  It was the title given to the earliest university teachers extending as far back as medieval Europe and the early church for those who interpreted and taught the bible.  (I have confirmed this with Wikipedia).  A medical doctorate in the U.S. is relatively new in comparison.

A few weeks ago I received my acceptance letter for graduate school and I have never been more excited. Three years of full-time study and I will have a doctorate.  A few months ago, while entrenched and consumed in the application process.  A few physician friends of mine expressed their dismay at pursuing a Doctorate in Nursing Practice (DNP). Why I would want a doctorate… as a nurse?  “Why not just get a master’s degree? A doctorate in nursing doesn’t make you a doctor, you can’t do anymore with it.”

These comments made me think back immediately to an article written in the New York Times last fall.  I’m surprised at myself having read this article in October and not being inspired enough to write about it until now.  The article summarizes, a little too objectively in my opinion, the battle that is brewing over who has the right to call themselves doctor.  The jaw-dropping statement that was mentioned, but not expounded on very well in this article, referred to the legislative action being taken in states all across the country, as well as in the U.S Congress, attempting to limit which professionals are able to identify themselves as “Doctor”.  This legislation is being pursued, pushed, written, and kept alive by physician organizations that find themselves afraid for the sanctity and security of their own practice and insecure about the loss of power they feel with the perceived muddling-down of the title doctor by all the so-called “non doctors”.

1. If nurses wanted to be physicians they would go to medical school.  No one chooses nursing as profession because of the prestige or because it is a quick, easy program.

My professional goal is not to be a physician. I did not fail out of medical school and decide instead to get a nursing license such as that character on ER.  That is not real. If you fail out of medical school and decide to be a nurse you have to apply and pursue a nursing education through a very different and very competitive channel.  Nursing is also not a step to take on your way to a medical degree.  The education of nurses and physicians is COMPLETELY different … as is the practice.   A medical education teaches its students how to treat a disease.  A nursing education teaches its students how to treat a patient and their response to a disease.  The successful collaboration between nursing and medical practice is what makes patient care holistic.

2. Nursing care is about education. Nurses are inherent educators.

As the profession of nursing adapts to changing patient health care dynamics the education of nurses changes as well.  A bachelor’s degree is becoming standard education to provide care at the bedside and advanced nursing practice is moving towards a doctorate.  The development and solidification of a profession begins with the establishment of educational benchmarks.

Nursing is a profession that is built and specialized on the basis of health education.  Physicians specialize in investigation, innovation, and diagnosis (vital pillars of western medicine)  Nurses educate patients about living in wellness and coping with illness.  Nurses are lactation specialists, diabetes educators, wound educators, asthma educators, transplant coordinators, and so on.

The professional development of medicine and nursing are different in the realm of education.  Physicians are able to answer questions about a diagnosis or disease process that I can’t as a nurse.  Nurses provide education about what living looks like when you are struggling with a diagnosis.

3. Through education cultures and nations advance and develop.

The intent of this legislation, I suppose, is meant to limit confusion in our health care system between provider titles.  However, it’s squelching, oppressive, and demeaning.  As a nation and culture we should be encouraging education for everyone.  We should be embracing and celebrating those individuals that work hard to achieve their dreams through education.  A more educated health care system and provider network will contribute to better informed health care providers and safer care for all of us.

Doctor is a title, not a profession.

I will forever be proud of my chosen profession: Nursing.

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