No. It's confusing. There, that was easy.
The NYTimes opened this bag of worms recently. The blogosphere took the cue. For me the question itself fails to excite. Nurses are more trusted as a profession than doctors. Few of them are going to want to be confused with a doctor. Among those that do, most will have the common sense to realize that in the common usage, a medical doctor is a DO or an MD, and regardless of what brilliant etymological arguments one can bring to bear to illustrate that this should not be the case, it is so and a non-physician introducing themselves as the patient's doctor is going to destroy trust with that patient, who will feel deceived.
The story is more interesting for what it says about the state of healthcare today than the question getting all the attention. For instance, consider this fun fact:
For decades, a bachelor’s degree was all that was required to become a pharmacist. That changed in 2004 when a doctorate replaced the bachelor’s degree as the minimum needed to practice. Physical therapists once needed only bachelor’s degrees, too, but the profession will require doctorates of all students by 2015 — the same year that nursing leaders intend to require doctorates of all those becoming nurse practitioners.Doctorates for all! And you're welcome to 'em. But might I ask, what for? As the article points out:
Nursing is filled with multiple specialties requiring varying levels of education, from a high school equivalency degree for nursing assistants to a master’s degree for nurse practitioners. Those wishing to become nurse anesthetists will soon be required to earn doctorates, but otherwise there are presently no practical or clinical differences between nurses who earn master’s degrees and those who get doctorates.We have a huge labor shortage barreling down on us in healthcare, as the baby boomers move out of their healthcare jobs and into the stretcher in the hallway. Is this really the time to be raising barriers to those entering the profession?
It would be one thing if those extra months and years were to be spent running codes in the sim lab, treating hundreds of standardized patients, or drilling deeply into pathophysiology or pharmacology. But that's not what they are doing:
Nursing phD degrees focus on research skills, administration, public health. They don't go back to the basics and forge exceptional clinicians; they're not for that. It's hard to escape the gnawing sense that these are advanced degrees mostly for the sake of advanced degrees; mail-order MBAs for the ambitious and upwardly mobile healthcare worker.
While instruction at each school varies, Dr. McCarver took classes in statistics, epidemiology and health care economics to earn her doctor of nursing practice degree. These additional classes, at Vanderbilt University, did not delve into how to treat specific illnesses, but taught Dr. McCarver the scientific and economic underpinnings of the care she was already providing and how they fit into the nation’s health care system.
I think a lot of this is about credential inflation; the tendency to value and require more and more postsecondary education regardless of whether it actually effects the person's ability to do their job. And the artificial scarcity of physicians that creates and maintains a massive hunger for mid-levels; that's in there too. I mean, if you have bright people who want to study for eight years to go work in a primary care clinic and call themselves doctors, the $64,000 question is why you don't just train them as doctors.
But those are posts in themselves, so stay turned for part two: Credential inflation in healthcare.