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Clinical AdvisorDNP Sued for Referring to Herself as Doctor

How might ambiguous title usage in the medical field affect public perception and trust?

Unprecedented legal consequences unfolded for a California-based nurse practitioner, highlighting a pivotal moment in the realm of medical professionalism and ethical advertising. Amid charges of misrepresentation and the ensuing fallout, this case brings to the forefront the ambiguities in title usage within the medical field.

Key Points:
  • Ms. E, a nurse practitioner with a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) and PhD, was known to her patients as “Dr. Sarah.”
  • After opening a women’s health clinic in 2018, her online presence also used the title “Dr. Sarah.”
  • An investigation was initiated by California’s Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) in 2022 after a report alleged she was misrepresenting herself as a physician.
  • The subsequent case led to charges of violating California’s Business & Professions Code, alleging unfair business practices and false advertising.
  • Ms. E was charged nearly $20,000 in a settlement, along with other professional restrictions and obligations.
Additional Points:
  • The title “Dr. Sarah” was initially encouraged by Ms E’s former supervising physician.
  • The charges against Ms. E noted that her use of “Dr. Sarah” might mislead the public and unfairly elevate her position among other nurse practitioners on digital platforms.
  • Ms. E denied the charges, insisting that she had only ever referred to herself as a nurse practitioner.
  • Despite the settlement, additional legal challenges persist, including a separate fine from the California Medical Board and a complaint from the Board of Nursing.
  • The case has caused concern among non-physician medical professionals and sparked debates over the use of the term “doctor” in a medical setting.
  • The case of Ms. E underscores the importance of clear, ethical advertising and the precise use of professional titles in the healthcare field. It offers a cautionary tale for non-physician medical professionals regarding the complexities of title usage and potential legal implications.

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“There are literally hundreds of people in our county who use the term Doctor who are not physicians. They hold a doctoral degree…”

Ms. E – “Dr. Sarah” – on her GoFundMe page
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