Nurse Practitioners Sue for Right to Use “Doctor” Label

Who can say (s)he’s a doctor?

Nurse Practitioners Sue for  Right to Use “Doctor” Label


Three nurse practitioners with Doctorate of Nursing degrees (DNPs) are suing the state of California over the statute restricting the use of the terms “doctor” and “Dr.” to allopathic and osteopathic physicians only. The statute’s purpose is to avoid patient confusion over the level of education achieved by their physician as well as clarity on who is leading their health care team. The DNPs claim the statute is unconstitutional and does not validate the work they have done.


In 1937, California Business and Professions Code section 2054 was enacted, prohibiting the use of the term “doctor” to describe one’s professional status without certification as a physician. In November 2022, Sarah Erny, DNP, paid $22,500 in fines for violating this law. Erny had been running a practice as “Dr. Sarah Erny.” In June 2023, three DNPs claimed this statute to be unconstitutional.

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