The debate over this question is raging over at the NY Times. Be sure to check out the article and comments.
Here’s the situation in a nutshell. Nurse Practitioners (NPs) are nurses who have achieved a master’s degree in nursing. In New Hampshire, they can practice independently, meaning that they do not require supervision by a physician.
A DNP is a nurse practitioner with a doctorate. It is an additional 4 semesters on top of the masters program, concentrating on statistics and epidemiology. Apparently the American Association of Nurses will require that all NPs by 2015 have a DNP degree, basically making the current NP degree obsolete.
So, the answer to my question is yes, nurses can be doctors. They have obtained the terminal degree in their field, so they are doctors.
The more important question, however, is what does it mean? A DNP’s training still does not compare to that obtained by an MD or DO. A comparison of hours spent in education and clinical training prior to starting practice shows that a primary care physician right out of residency has between 15,000-19,000 more hours of training. So, while they are doctors, they are not physicians.
Personally, I don’t really care what I’m called. I introduce myself to new patients by first and last name, and leave it up to them what to call me. Many call me Marni. Many others call me Dr. Nicholas. Some call me Dr. Marni. That’s my least favorite, because it’s kind of cutesy, and that’s just not my personality. But, hey, if that’s what someone wants to call me- fine. I’m more interested in a patient feeling comfortable with me than in a name. Trust me, my ego is not so fragile that it’s damaged by what a patient calls me (and, believe me, some patients have called me some pretty “colorful” things) or by nurses also being called doctors.
There are plenty of patients to go around for everyone.