Call a doctor a doctor: Despite objections to the term ‘provider,’ it persists

Doctor and nurses wheeling patient in gurney through hospital corridor
Some doctors object to being called providers. (Getty/Sam Edwards)

Somewhere along the way, doctors became “providers.”

And while some physicians have raised objections, the term provider is still being used—and it still doesn’t work, says Jennifer Weiss, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon, in a post on KevinMD.

“Calling medical doctors 'providers' does more than inflict eco-injury. It actually reduces morale, worth, purpose and results in already overworked doctors finding less meaning in the work that they do,” says Weiss.

In the corporate world, the pendulum is swinging back to using job titles that actually define an employee’s role accurately. But the trend hasn’t found its way into the medical world, Weiss says. Instead, the word provider, a term that doesn’t reflect a person’s training or tasks, has come into fashion.

The term was adopted by federal law in the early 1970s and by its definition can include everyone from a doctor of medicine or osteopathy to a nurse practitioner or clinical social worker.

It’s not just doctors who should be bothered by the term, Weiss says, arguing there is nothing “mid-level” about a so-called mid-level provider who works long shifts and takes care of sick patients.

“The whole term (any way you put it) doesn’t work and needs to be changed,” she says. “...Why is anyone on a medical staff still being termed “provider” if we know that titles matter, are used to accurately reflect a person’s role within a company and lead to better overall engagement in the workplace? It’s not only nonsensical, but it’s also detrimental,” she says.

In fact, healthcare professionals have different training, knowledge and clinical experience. In the shift to team-based care, members have different roles and responsibilities based on their specific competencies.