Doctorate of Nursing degrees blur the lines between Doctor and Nurse

As the impending shortage of Primary-Care Physicians continues to grow many are trying to find a solution to this problem. Nursing professionals have come up with an answer and it’s called Dr. Nurse. That’s right, Dr. Nurse. More than 200 schools offer, or are planning to offer, doctorate of nursing degrees. According to these schools, the degree will make Doctors of Nursing equivalent to Primary-Care Physicians.

The obvious issue here is that nurses with doctorate degrees do not go to medical school. The two-year doctorate program includes a one-year residency and is supposed to create “hybrid practitioners” with more skills, knowledge and training than a nurse practitioner with a master’s degree.  But these Doctors of Nursing are still missing the crucial component of medical school.

Currently, there is no national standard for Doctors of Nursing but the non-profit Council for the Advancement of Comprehensive Care announced that the National Board of Medical Examiners has agreed to develop the Doctor of Nursing (DNP) certification exam based on the same test physicians take to qualify for a medical license. Beginning this fall the exam will be administered by the board, and by 2015 the doctoral degree may by the standard for all new advanced practice nurses.

As to be expected, many Physician groups worry that the line between doctors and nurses is too fuzzy, thus confusing patients and jeopardizing their care. Physician groups are not the only ones worried about this news. Many nurse advocates argue that there is also a shortage of nurses and fear that nurses may be enticed by the higher pay and prestige that comes with advanced degrees. This will make it even harder to find nurses to provide daily bedside care.

The biggest concern from a patient’s perspective is that nurses with a doctorate degree can use “Dr.” in their title thus making it impossible to distinguish between the Physician and the Nurse Practitioner. Physician groups believe, as do we, that DNP’s should be required to clearly state to patients that they are doctors of nursing and not doctors of medicine. Congress has recently introduced legislation to make it illegal for healthcare providers to mislead their patients. H.R. bill 451, also known as The Healthcare Truth and Transparency Act of 2011, will “ensure that patients receive accurate health care information by prohibiting misleading and deceptive advertising or representation in the provision of health care services, and to require the identification of the license of health care professionals.” Until this bill is voted on, it is crucial to not only ask for a doctor by your side, but also ask for a medical doctor by your side.



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