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A California nurse practitioner (NP) with a doctorate degree was fined $20,000 in 2022 for illegally presenting herself as a physician and referring to herself as “doctor” when interacting with patients. The NP, Sarah Erny, was supervised by Anika Moore, MD, who has now been fined $25,000 for unlawful supervision of Erny’s conduct, according to Medscape. An investigation found that Moore—who lived in Massachusetts—never reviewed any medical records for Erny’s patients, and Erny ultimately opened an independent medical practice where she prescribed controlled substances. Moore believed Erny was practicing alongside other physicians. Last year, Erny and other DNPs sued California because they believed calling themselves “doctor” was within their right to free speech.

Doctor, it’s up to you: Regulations on who can call themselves “doctor” vary by state. Under California’s Medical Practice Act, individuals cannot refer to themselves as “doctor,” “physician,” or any similar term without having “a certificate as a physician and surgeon.” Alan Ayers, MBA, MAcc, president of Experity Consulting and Senior Editor of JUCM, notes that the thrust of the case actually has more to do with lax supervision of the California nurse practitioner by a doctor in Massachusetts. “When an NP does something wrong, supervising physicians are routinely fined or sued along with the NPs they supervise,” Ayers says. “Perhaps the investigation into the supervising physician wouldn’t have been triggered if the DNP hadn’t been fined for attempting to call herself ‘doctor’ in independent practice. It’s important for physicians to understand their liability under collaboration agreements and for NPs to check with their specific state before using their academic title.”

Physician Fined for Lax Supervision of NP