Not all white coats are doctors: Why titles are important at the doctor’s office


Not everyone is a doctor

Even when PAs and NPs remind patients of their roles and reinforce the use of their preferred names, there will still be patients who continue referring to their nonphysician provider as “doctor.”

“There’s a perception that anyone who walks into a room with a stethoscope is your doctor,” says Graig Straus, DNP, an NP and president and CEO of Rockland Urgent Care Family Health NP, P.C., West Haverstraw, N.Y. “You do get a little bit of burnout correcting people all the time.”

Dr. Straus, who earned his doctorate in nursing practice, notes that patients using the honorific with him aren’t incorrect, but he still educates them on his role within the health care team.

“NPs and PAs have a valuable role to play independently and in concert with the physician,” Dr. Aaronson says. This understanding is essential, as states consider expanding treatment abilities for NPs and PAs.

NPs have expanded treatment abilities or full practice authority in almost half the states, and 31% of the physicians surveyed agreed that NPs should have expanded treatment abilities.

An estimated 1 in 5 states characterizes the physician-PA relationship as collaborative, not supervisory, according to the American Academy of Physician Associates. At the same time, only 39% of physicians surveyed said they favored this trend.

“Patients need great quality care, and there are many different types of providers that can provide that care as part of the team,” Ms. Flores says. “When you have a team taking care of a patient, that patient [gets] the best care possible – and ... that’s why we went into medicine: to deliver high-quality, compassionate care to our patients, and we should all be in this together.”

When practices do their part explaining who is and isn’t a doctor and what each provider’s title and role is and what to call them, and everyone reinforces it, health care becomes not only more manageable for patients to traverse but easier to understand, leading to a better experience.

A version of this article first appeared on


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