Defining 'doctors': New FL law would alter some job titles

Some nurse practictioners feel targeted

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. - There is a battle brewing in the Florida medical community over just who can use the prestigious title, "doctor", in their name and practice.

Nurse practitioners work alongside licensed medical doctors to treat patients every day. The new legislative push aims to better define the term 'doctor'.

This is how Rachael Buitrago introduces herself to her patients: "My name is Dr. Buitrago. I'm your nurse practitioner today. How are you?"

If some lawmakers get their way, Buitrago's introduction here could actually get her slapped with a third degree felony. "It's quite disturbing that you could possibly see me behind bars for taking care of you," she said.

Senate Bill 612 will be debated by Florida lawmakers starting next month. It says any Health Care Practitioner who presents themselves with title of 'doctor' with the intent to mislead a patient about medical qualifications can be charged with a felony.

"There is no intent of me misleading you, my patient, of who I am and what I do," said Buitrago. Though she and other nurse practitioners may not be licensed medical doctors, many of them have earned doctorate degrees after years of education. "My degree title is Doctor of Nursing Practice," she said.

With his doctorate, Chris Saslo says, comes his 'doctor' title. "Doctor is not a title for me," said Saslo. "'Doctor' is actually a journey that I was able to complete."

The change in law would specifically impact nurse practitioners. Supporting the push is the American Medical Association, which launched its Truth In Advertising campaign in 2009. The AMA did not immediately return requests for comment, but has said the new measure would provide clarity about who is giving what care.

It is already a misdemeanor if someone deceives others into thinking they are licensed to practice medicine. The new measure would upgrade that to a felony in the third degree. If approved, it would take effect October 1.

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