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What liability do physicians have when referring to CNAs as "nurses?"

Monday June 18, 2012
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Dear Nancy,

What liability do physicians have when referring to CNAs as "nurses?"


Nancy Brent replies:

Dear Lolu,

The title "nurse," "RN” and "nurse practitioner" are examples of titles that are protected and regulated by the state nurse practice act. Acts and rules prohibit the use of these terms unless one is a licensed registered or practical nurse or a licensed nurse practitioner.

It might be helpful to bring this issue up with those who use these titles so indiscriminately. Also important to those who are called a title they do not really have, is if they present themselves as a "nurse," "RN" or other title that is regulated by the state nurse practice act. Many statutes make the unauthorized use of such titles, whether the use be by a firm, an association, corporation or an individual — a misdemeanor if found guilty.

You might want to share a copy of the statute or rules with those who engage in this unauthorized use of licensure titles. A simple change in procedure, such as having pins with a person's first name and the proper designation — Mary, CNA — might be a good start. Calling someone by his or her name — "Mary, our CNA, will take your blood pressure" — is another option.

The loose use of the term "nurse" has been going on for centuries. It’s funny how it continues to be perpetuated.


Nancy J. Brent, RN, MS, JD, is an attorney in private practice in Wilmette, Ill. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as legal or any other advice. The reader is encouraged to seek the advice of an attorney or other professional when an opinion is needed.