Empowering Nurses at the Bedside and in Business

The Murky Waters Of Nursing Titles

There are several different degrees in which one can become a registered nurse.  They can have a diploma, associates or a bachelors.  There also are several master’s degrees.  When I attended nursing school, I became a MN, a Master of Nursing.  But now, the prevailing degree is an MSN., Master of Science in Nursing.

With a doctor’s education, one can earn a EdD, PhD, DNS or DNP. EdD for education, PhD for research, DNS Doctor of Nursing Science or DNP Doctor of Nursing Practice to name a few.  All of these terminal degrees can use the title Doctor. Now the State of New Hampshire is causing a stir about the use of the name of nurse anesthesiologist.

The CRNAs (Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist) claim that “Nurse Anesthesiologist” is a clear term for patients to understand what the CRNA does.  They believe the term anesthetist can be from a technical degree referring to anesthesiology assistants who have begun to refer to themselves as anesthetists.

Apparently, the CRNAs in New Hampshire were calling themselves nurse anesthesiologists until a lawsuit was filed by the New Hampshire Association of Nurse Anesthetists to use that term.  The New Hampshire Board of Nursing recognized the term “nurse anesthesiologist.”  In response, the New Hampshire Board of Medicine voted to prohibit individuals from calling themselves anesthesiologist unless they are a physician licensed by the Medical Board.  The New Hampshire Association of Nurse Anesthetists filed suit against the New Hampshire Board of Medicine to remove their ruling to prohibit non physicians from using the term anesthesiologist.

The arguments were that (1) there is no trademark on the term anesthesiologist, (2) it makes it clearer to the patient that the term anesthesiology is a unique discipline in that multiple professionals are experts in anesthesiology, not just physicians.

CRNAs undergo rigorous education and professional training.  The National Council of State Boards of Nursing promulgated the consensus model for Advanced Practice Registered Nurses of which CRNAs are a part of those model rules.

However, the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled that the term anesthesiologist applies only to physicians.  The American Society of Anesthesiologists was thrilled with the opinion and the American Medical Association also submitted a brief in support that nurses are not anesthesiologists in the same way that they are not physicians.

The American Society of Anesthesiologists claims that the use of anesthesiologist by nurses is misleading and confusing to patients.  However, if you say you are a nurse anesthesiologist, I cannot see how that can be confusing or misleading, especially when nurse anesthesiologists perform similar functions as physician anesthesiologists.

This ruling applies only to parties in New Hampshire, but I would think it will be looked at by other states as well.

What do you think about CRNAs being called nurse anesthesiologists?  Let me hear your thoughts below.

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Click here to listen to the New Hampshire Supreme Court Argument


  1. Kim Matias

    I personally don’t see what’s wrong with calling themselves Nurse Anesthesiologist, as long as they put the “ nurse” in front, so it is not misleading to the pt.
    They perform similar roles, and know they are not physicians. Why does it have to be condescending to professionals who go through rigorous training and perform a very similar job w/o being a “ physician”?I’m sure the physician would find them suitable for the title if they were called in 3am for an emergency c-section.
    This brings up the title of PA’s. They are practically doctors and in some states can practice independently. Yet, many times people confuse their title with that of a medical assistant. I wish they had a title that more clearly gives them the deserved credit for all of their education.

  2. Nursey

    Even if a nurse has a phd they are not suppose to call themselves ‘doctor” . No medical degree. I agree with this court . Notice they brought up AZ , where a CRNA who got on the board in the past, (represents like 1000 ) UH! And he said he wanted it changed because his “parents could not pronounce anesthetists ”
    Well like they said ‘turf war” . I still think they need over sight by medical Dr.
    When a title is that important , it is concerning.
    Too many are getting into anesthetist school without 2 years in ICU. They want the title go to medical school, just my opinion.

  3. Timothy Alford

    The public is completely ignorant of who does what in the medical field. The reality is CRNA’s work all over the country without physician supervision. Multiple studies show that the risks and outcomes between physician anesthesiologist and CRNA’s are statistically identical. Most hospital cases are seen by a physician anesthesiologist and then the CRNA actually does the case. CRNA’s were the original providers. The first Physician anesthesia provider was trained by a Nurse Anesthetist.

  4. -cari

    Why would someone not be allowed to use a title that they earned, and was bestowed upon them, called a DOCTORATE?
    You sound quite backward if you are thinking that nurses cannot practice independently!!

  5. Avion Drayton- Bailey

    If the study is Anesthesiology, then anyone who has studied it, is proficient in it and certified should be able to carry the term Anesthesiologist. But of course with their substantive title of Nurse or Doctor

  6. Tona

    Perhaps a side by side comparison of the complete educational, clinical and required licensing exams, certifications, etc for anesthesiologists vs. nurse anesthetists would provide greater detail and context for the readers. Based on my limited knowledge, however, a nurse anesthetist is not an anesthesiologist and would agree that the two should not be represented as the same.

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