The Doctor - of Nursing - Will See You Now

Oct 3, 2011, 10:15 PM, Posted by

The New York Times this weekend reported on the increasing number of nurses pursuing doctoral degrees, and whether it confuses patients when nurses with PhDs use the title “doctor.” As more nurses advance their education, physicians are worried that nurses will seek more prescribing authority and money, the story reports.

But as Dr. Kathleen Potempa, dean of the University of Michigan School of Nursing and the president of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, points out in the article: “It’s not like a group of us woke up one day to create a degree as a way to compete with another profession. Nurses are very proud of the fact that they’re nurses, and if nurses had wanted to be doctors, they would have gone to medical school.”

“What we call ourselves isn’t the most important issue. Improving patient care is,” says Susan B. Hassmiller, PhD, RN, FAAN, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) senior adviser for nursing and director of the Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action, adding that she is proud to be both a nurse and “Dr. Hassmiller.”

“Our country’s population is aging,” she continued, “and millions more patients are entering the health system because of reform. We urgently need more primary care providers, including advanced practice and PhD nurses. There is consensus that we need more highly trained nurses if we are to meet the current and emerging needs of our patents. That is why RWJF has always prioritized nursing and why it supported the Institute of Medicine’s Future of Nursing report, which recommends increasing the education of nurses at all levels, including doubling the number of nurses with doctoral degrees by 2020. Nurses with advanced degrees also serve as faculty members and researchers - who also are in short supply - and provide high-quality care for patients. Our focus should be on helping more nurses get advanced degrees, and promoting the kind of interprofessional collaboration that improves patient care.”

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This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.