Calling Yourself a Nurse is a Crime, No Less

What can a licensed nurse do when a medical assistant calls herself a nurse?

It is not uncommon to visit a physician’s office and encounter medical assistants and other non-licensed staff members referring to themselves a nurse. In reality, many of these healthcare workers are not licensed nurses but instead are medical assistants. Identifying yourself as a nurse when you are not is wrong. In addition to the fact that misrepresentation of your profession is dishonest, there are many other reasons why medical assistants should not call themselves nurses.

A medical assistant is not an office nurse and should never be referred to as such. If you are a nurse and you witness a medical assistant calling him or herself a nurse, here are some points that you should inform the medical assistant of:

1. It’s Confusing

A hierarchy exists in patient care, so there is a ladder that can be climbed when issues arise. If the medical assistants refer to each other as nurses, it can be difficult and confusing for the patient to try and understand who the nurse actually is.

If a medical assistant allows a patient to think she is a nurse while discussing their medical issues the outcome of the conversation may lead a patient to make healthcare decisions he/she might not otherwise make. As a medical assistant you may give your opinion to a patient but it does not have the same level of education or credentials to go behind it that a nurse has.

In addition, the nurse may be able to notice an underlying condition in the patient that a medical assistant might not know to look for. Because of additional training in communications, the nurse is also likely to be able to express the patient’s concerns more clearly to a physician.

2. It’s Disrespectful

There is no doubt that going to school for any health related degree is difficult. However, becoming a nurse takes an extra level of commitment over being a medical assistant. Calling yourself a nurse when you are not is a slap in the face to nurses who have take the extra effort to pursue a degree in nursing.

3. It’s Illegal

You might not know it but impersonating a nurse is a crime. And even though a medical assistant may believe what they are doing is innocent, it is a crime. What they are actually doing is misrepresenting themselves and leading people to believe that they have a greater education and qualifications than they have.

Just like physicians who practice medicine without a license, medical assistants who call themselves nurses can be held legally responsible for practicing nursing without a license.

Depending on your state’s laws, it can be considered a misdemeanor or a felony. Practicing nursing without a license is always a criminal act which is punishable by the sentencing rules of the appropriate statute. For example,California part of the nurse practice acts states that a person cannot let someone assume they are a nurse, much less call themselves one:

“In the interest of public safety and consumer awareness, it shall be unlawful for any person to use the title “nurse” by any individual except for an individual who is a registered nurse or a licensed vocational nurse. This law does not prohibit certified nurses’ aides from using their specific title.”

Communicating clearly and assertively with a medical assistant that it is not okay for them to call themselves a nurse is not only recommended but required. Not doing so could put patients in danger. If the medical assistant continues to call himself/herself a nurse after being told it is inappropriate, you should alert your state board of nursing so they can be held legally accountable for claiming a license and title they do not have.

It is illegal in all states to claim a license you do not have. For more information about nursing boards, please visit the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.

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