Medical Assistant and Nurse Titles

Q. Should a medical assistant call herself/himself a “nurse,” even in a generic sense?

A. Absolutely not. The title “nurse,” even when used generically, is restricted by state laws to those individuals licensed as RNs or LPNs. Medical assistants can be criminally and civilly liable if they call themselves “nurse,” “office nurse,” “the doctor’s nurse,” or any other variation of the title “nurse.”

About Donald A. Balasa

Donald A. Balasa, JD, MBA, chief executive officer and legal counsel for the American Association of Medical Assistants, keeps his eye on what is happening in the profession.
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9 Responses to Medical Assistant and Nurse Titles

  1. Alexander Chong says:

    Can our organization give the title name for Medical assistant? For example : Medical Officer, the title is Dr. Why not for the Medical Assistant / Assistant Medical Officer use the title Dr’a or meaning Medical Assistant or Assistant Medical Officer? Can our organization create it for the short name to easy us to use it?

    • crystaltraillpn says:

      That makes no sense.

    • kids_play2 says:

      Can your organization give the title name for Medical Assistant?? This question doesn’t make sense. The wording in your question makes it very difficult to understand just what it is that you are asking. What title name are you talking about? Medical Assistant IS the title. As far as calling an MA, “Doctor” or “Assistant medical Officer”? No, your organization cannot. You are not free to make up new titles for MAs. They already have a title — Medical Assistant. If you’re looking for something shorter, then use MA. The Chief Medical Officer (and I’m assuming it’s “Chief” because that’s how it goes) should, by rights, be a physician, a medical doctor (MD), so of course the title is “Doctor.” Why wouldn’t it be?? The position called “Assistant Medical Officer” does not exist anywhere in the U.S. except in your question. It IS a position and title for a type of health care provider in countries such as Tanzania and Malaysia and is something like a PA or NP, but is not doctor. Please understand that one cannot be addressed or referred to as “Doctor” unless one holds a doctoral degree (PhD, EdD, DNP, MD, JD, for example). I strongly suggest you call your Medical Assistants exactly that — Medical Assistant, or call them MA.

  2. SuzieQ says:

    Just call them what they are – medical receptionists. I know several of them who call themselves nurses and deceive people on the internet and in real life about what they do. What is it, like a 9 month class anyone can get in? They need to stop worrying about their titles.

  3. Christine says:

    @ SuzieQ If you believe a Medical Assistant is simply a receptionist, you are most certainly misinformed. Medical Assistants are able to obtain an Associates of Applied Science in Medical Assisting which is a 2 year Associates degree just as for a CNA. Some schools are also working on establishing BS programs in Medical Assisting due to the high demand of quality medical professionals skilled in a variety of office and medical tasks. I can tell you first hand that it is not necessarily a “9 month class” for a “medical receptionist” as you so rudely imply, but a comprehensive curriculum including phlebotomy, laboratory testing, x-ray evaluation, pharmacology, first responder emergency instruction along with front office tasks, billing and coding. Most MA’s also retain credentialing by completing the Registration or Certification exam every few years to become RMAs or CMAs.

    The reason it is a genuine concern regarding titles is that patient’s call us nurses or receptionists, doctors call us Assistants (which could mean a PA or even some stranger off the street assisting for all the patient knows) and there is obvious confusion about who we are and what we are there to do. There is further confusion about what we are able to do legally in the medical setting. An MA who attends a 3 month program at the mall may only be trained in patient scheduling, yet they are called Medical Assistants. An MA with an AAS who is fully trained and certified to perform x-rays, lab draws, dispense medications, perform injections and any number of medical tasks is lumped into the same category. It is the same issue as calling a CNA a nurse and an RN or LPN a nurse. One obviously has far more training and medical expertise than the other, yet to a patient a nurse is a nurse is a nurse. There needs to be a distinction.

    • crystaltraillpn says:

      An RN and an LPN are, in fact, “nurses”. Maybe I’m not understanding what you’re trying to say, “It is the same issue as calling an RN or LPN a nurse.”
      I’m not trying to be rude, I’m really not. When you’re behind a computer screen typing words, it’s hard to relay what you’re saying and the way you’re trying to make it sound. Does that make sense? Lol. 🙂

  4. kids_play2 says:

    @crystaltraillpn, I think Christine is saying that referring to an MA as a “nurse” is similar (or the same as) erroneously referring to a CNA as a “nurse.” At least, I hope this is what she means because, as you and I both know, RNs and LPNs/LVNs are both licensed nurses so that statement would make no sense at all. I hold a valid state nursing license so I think I know what a nurse is.

  5. C.A. Cabral, RN says:

    The subject of MAs using the professional title “nurse” is obviously a volatile topic and it doesn’t seem like it will go away any time soon. As a professional nurse (RN) I don’t mind sharing that I am offended by the use of the nurse title by MAs. The nurse title is way too difficult to earn for me to feel any other way. If MAs were as proud of their academic and clinical achievements as many say they are (and they should be), why then are they not as proud of their title? Mr. Balasa has indeed written on the subject but I truly believe if it is a problem worth writing about it is a problem worth solving. As a former corporate trainer and current educator of nurses I believe a little education can go a long way. Perhaps it is time for a nationwide campaign educating the healthcare and medical communities as well as the general public on this very topic. As a consumer of healthcare, I do fully intent to hold any MA accountable for their training, skill level and professional conduct as I would for a nurse. I am not a litigious person but this is a topic that concerns me to that end. I teach my nursing students that they must always be readily identifiable as a student nurse when in the clinical environment. I also teach them that they must be as identifiable once they become licensed. Rationale; the public has a right to know who is delivering their care. We have a duty to tell them. It is a fact…not only do some MAs propagate and perpetuate this misrepresentation, but some are even practicing skills that they are not properly trained for, I’ve seen it myself. That is due in large part to the ignorance of medical office managers, trainers, nurses and MAs themselves and even some physicians. That list goes on. I believe Mr. Balasa would agree with me that it is a duty and a responsibility of the Medical Assistant to correct anyone (including physicians) that mistakenly addresses or otherwise identifies MAs as nurses. Some are not doing that! Isn’t that part of their training? Does it really have to come down to the number of Medical Assistants and physician’s offices being sued to get the word out? Mr. Balasa’s messages are clear…it is not only inappropriate for an MA to use the nurse title but it is also illegal. Nurses assist physicians in many settings but if a nurse identified him or herself as a Physician Assistant that could mean the end of a job and quite possibly a career-or worse. Physician Assistant is a professional title reserved for those that have earned it. Nurse is a professional title reserved for those that have earned it. I invite Mr. Balasa’s personal response.

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