The word “provider” dehumanizes any person who cares for patients


“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.”
– Rudyard Kipling

I read Drs. Dhand’s and Carbone’s post with great interest: Physicians are not providers: An open letter to the AMA and medical boards. I began writing a comment; it turned into an essay.

I support Drs. Dhand and Carbone in this endeavor. The word “provider” diminishes the people who cure, treat, and heal, whether they’re physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, etc.

The dictionary definitions were all similar. A provider can be a person, organization, or business that provides a good or service. But, we know a physician, etc., cannot be a business or an organization.

“Physician” is defined as a person who is qualified to practice medicine, and also a person skilled in the art of healing. There’s no mention about providing a good or service.

A service is a helpful activity, and the definitions go down from there. Utilities, commodities, maintenance, the supplier of public communication or transportation, the duties performed by or as a waiter or servant.

“Provider” dehumanizes any person who cares for patients (who, by the way, are not “customers”).

The open letter request should be low-hanging fruit for the AMA and state medical boards. I can’t understand why all physicians wouldn’t enthusiastically support this action. It’s not an either-or situation. Unlike the items listed in in this comment, this remedy can happen instantly, and it doesn’t cost dollars. It’s about eliminating (or exchanging) only one word in their lexicon. As the authors suggested, if a generic term must be used, replace “provider” with “clinician”… which, by the way, is defined as “a person (such as a doctor or nurse) who works directly with patients rather than in a laboratory or as a researcher.”

If all of you who submit essays to, comment on, or simply read KevinMD, made that easy fix in your own language, and respectfully corrected persons when they refer to you or your colleagues as “providers” or “mid-level providers,” change would occur.

This isn’t about political correctness; it’s about incremental steps to take back medicine and change the culture of medicine as bloggers or commenters often declare they want to see happen.

I do disagree, though, with one thing in Drs. Dhand and Carbone’s letter. “The word ‘provider’ is a non-specific and nondescript term that confers little meaning.” Oh, it confers meaning all right … just not the meaning one associates with those who dedicate their lives to serving* others by caring for us, often at our most vulnerable times.

* For the record, this is the definition of serve that applies here: “to be useful or of service to; help.”

Janice Mancuso is creator, The Osler Symposia: Weekend Retreats for Doctors & Nurses.

Image credit:


View 47 Comments >

Most Popular

✓ Join 150,000+ subscribers
✓ Get KevinMD's most popular stories