Proposed bills in the Florida Senate (SB 612) and House (BH 805) could make it a third-degree felony for nurses with doctoral degrees to use the title when introducing themselves to patients, without immediately qualifying that with a statement that he or she is not a medical doctor.

Those who violate these terms could be punished by fines, jail time and loss of professional license for a minimum of five years, as stipulated in the bills.

For example, this would change the way I great patients from “Hello, I am Dr. Waldrop, your nurse practitioner,” to “Hello, I am Dr. Waldrop. I am not a medical doctor.”  Unfortunately, this bill has already been sent to the Health Policy Committee.

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There is already a law in Florida that states that health-care practitioners who fail to identify themselves by type of license – either orally or in writing (e.g., name badge) – can be disciplined by the state professional board. Intentionally misrepresenting yourself as a physician may result in a first-degree misdemeanor charge. Similar laws protect the public in most states from health-care fraud.

These proposals are not limited to Florida. In 2011, the New York Senate proposed a bill that would bar nurses from advertising themselves as “doctors,” no matter what their educational degree. Thankfully, this specific bill did not survive the 2011-2012 legislative session.

Should it be felony for nurses with doctoral degrees to call themselves doctor when meeting new patients?

Physicians claim that this type of law is necessary to prevent public confusion caused by a proliferation of providers using the term “Doctor.” However, neither the New York bill nor the Florida bill targets chiropractors, podiatrists, or even optometrists – just advanced practice nurses. I am curious as to why nurses, one of the most trusted professions, can not be counted on to be clear about who they are and what their role is in caring for patients.

In Arizona and Delaware, nurses, pharmacists, and other nonphysician providers are forbidden from using the title “Doctor” unless they immediately identify their profession.  This is different from being required to identify yourself as not a “medical doctor.”

In a letter to the Tampa Bay Times, the president of the Florida Nurses Association called the bill an “oppression of educated nurses.” In addition, an online petition to stop SB 612 has gathered more than 2,500 signatures to date. Such tactics may help influence politicians, but there is no guarantee that other state medical associations won’t lobby for similar bills as well

In a time when the Institute of Medicine calls for increasing the educational level of all registered nurses and millions of people lack access to health care, this bill seems at best unnecessary and at worst an assault on well educated nurses.

Keep your eyes and ears open. Your state may be next.