Physicians are not providers: An open letter to the AMA and medical boards

Dear AMA and state medical boards,

The last few years have been a period of unprecedented change in the world of health care. The need to reign in costs, expand access, and ensure higher quality care — all at a time of rapid medical and technological advancements — has changed innumerable aspects of the practice of medicine.

Throughout this, one common theme has been the dedication and determination of hundreds of thousands of physicians across the United States, who on a daily basis work tirelessly for their patients. These physicians are among the most highly educated and trained professionals in the country, the majority having accumulated a substantial debt burden to become practicing physicians. At a time when most fellow professionals are starting families, buying homes, and getting settled in life, would-be physicians are still in education, sitting exam after exam to fulfill their dreams.

It is, therefore, a concern that another big paradigm shift in health care has been a push to no longer address physicians by their true job title, but by the word “provider” instead. This has occurred at all levels of administrative and electronic communication, and is now also being used with patients.

The word “doctor” is over 2,000 years old, aptly derived from the Latin doctus, meaning to teach or instruct. “Physician” was used traditionally to describe a medical doctor, and King Henry VIII granted the first charter to form the Royal College of Physicians in 1518. In almost every country in the world, a medical doctor is considered to be among the most noble and prestigious professions, the title only conferred after one of the most rigorous university courses in existence. It is a privilege and honor to be one.

Today, there are many different professionals caring for patients at the frontlines of medicine. More and more non-physicians who possess a doctorate degree are using the word “doctor” which the public understands to be a doctor of medicine.  While many possessing doctorate degrees may legitimately refer to themselves as doctors, only doctors of medicine can legitimately refer to themselves as physicians. So let us further and appropriately begin to distinguish doctors of medicine as physicians.

The word “provider” is a non-specific and nondescript term that confers little meaning. We, therefore, call on the American Medical Association and all state medical boards to consider discouraging and terminating the use of the word “provider” in all administrative communication, in place of “physician” when addressing a medical doctor. If a more generic term is necessary, consideration to the term “clinician” should be given. We believe that this affords the courtesy and respect that is due to a hard working and dedicated profession.


Suneel Dhand and William J. Carbone

Suneel Dhand is an internal medicine physician and author of Thomas Jefferson: Lessons from a Secret Buddha and High Percentage Wellness Steps: Natural, Proven, Everyday Steps to Improve Your Health & Well-being. He blogs at his self-titled site, Suneel Dhand.  William Carbone is chief executive officer, American Board of Physician Specialties.

Image credit:

View 25 Comments >

Most Popular

KevinMD logo - transparent