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Is the doctor a ‘doctor’?

A recent article in The New York Times raises some of the issues surrounding the use of the word “doctor.” We are all aware from our undergraduate days that there are many doctorate degrees offered in a large number of academic disciplines.

In the healthcare arena, the word doctor is generally understood to mean a physician with a M.D. or D.O. degree. However, that is now changing. We have doctors of pharmacy, physical therapy, psychology, and nursing to name a few. Yet, when someone wearing a white coat introduces themselves as Dr. Smith to a patient, the patient will most likely assume that person is a physician.

So why the push for so many types of doctorate degrees?  Is it the continual pursuit for knowledge and recognition of the same?  Is it the prestige of the word doctor in the healthcare setting?  Is it motivated by the thought that the word doctor means a higher salary?  Is it an attempt to confuse or mislead patients?  Is it an attempt to allow non-physician healthcare workers an increase in scope of practice and autonomy?

Some states are creating legislation to control the use of the word doctor. Should that have to happen? Or should we, the healthcare providers, decide how to proceed? As you can see, I have raised many more questions than answers. What do you think?

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Filed Under: medical staff leadershippatient satisfactionQuality of care

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Error: Unable to create directory uploads. Is its parent directory writable by the server? About the Author: William F. Mills, M.D., MMM, CPE, FAAFP, CMSL, is currently the senior vice president of quality and professional affairs for the Upper Allegheny Health System located in western NY. Mills is a graduate of Hahnemann University School of Medicine and completed his family practice residency at the West Jersey Health System. He is certified by the American Board of Family Medicine, and a fellow in the American Academy of Family Physicians. Mills is currently a clinical assistant professor at the School of Medicine, State University of New York at Buffalo. He is also certified in addiction medicine through the American Society of Addiction Medicine, and currently serves as a medical review officer. Prior to transitioning to full-time administrative medicine, Mills spent more than 20 years as a practicing family physician, and more than 10 years as the medical director of a residential drug and alcohol treatment facility. He also holds a Master of Medical Management degree from the Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California and is a Certified Physician Executive from the Certifying Commission in Medical Management.

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