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Should optometrists be calling themselves doctors?

Optometry, The Health Industry

The Optometry Board of Australia has recently reminded optometrists that there is no provision in the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law that prohibits a practitioner from using titles such as “doctor”, but has given a warning on the potential to mislead or deceive if the title isn’t applied in a clear manner.

The Board has stated that those who are not registered medical practitioners but choose to adopt the title “Dr” in the advertising of their services should clearly state their profession so as to not mislead the public. The Board has said that an example of an acceptable way of using the title doctor is “Dr Isobel Jones (Optometrist)”.

Rose Huang, committee member of Young Optometrists NSW / ACT approached some of her colleagues regarding the use of the title “Doctor” and found a vast variation in the views and use of this term:

  • One colleague does not use the term “Doctor” as she does not believe she is a doctor. She only ever refers to herself as Ms, in her business cards and also when she signs off her referrals
  • Another optometrist who has not actually completed the therapeutics course refers to herself as a “Doctor”, which is very unusual seeing as we are only considered therapeutic goods provider. She graduated over 20 years ago and is yet to do the therapeutics component but will look into it.
  • An optometrist whose clinic specialises in behavioural optometry refers to herself as “Doctor”. All her letterheads state she is a doctor, and as these letterheads are then sent off to the specialists and GPs they would also show that her colleagues and herself refer to themselves as “Doctor”. This has been well received as she is at a specialty practice.
  • Some colleagues use it purely for marketing purposes, for example: “Doctor X is available now for eye assessments”
  • Other colleagues have stated they are quite open to using the doctor term as they believe other professions, such as chiropractors, use it quite freely and therefore they are quite comfortable with using it, their rationality being they have studied the 5 year course and are competent in prescribing therapeutic goods.
  • Whilst most optometrists have been quite well accepted in using the Doctor term, one colleague has had a very unfortunate experience. She was referred a patient from the GP for a red eye. The optometrist diagnosed herpes simplex keratitis and started the patient on medication. She then wrote a letter back to the GP asking for prophylactic oral treatment, which the GP could prescribe. She signed the letter with Dr her name (therapeutics goods provider). The GP then rang her up stating she was not a doctor and she could not use the term. He threatened to report her to AHRPA unless she took this terminology off her business cards and letterheads. She has been very scarred by the incident.

Ms Huang said that “whilst patients are very open to us using the term, however there have been a few experiences of backlash from other health practitioners.

I agree the use of this term remains quite a controversial subject and hopefully these experiences can give you some insight.

Personally I use the term only on my appointment cards. I am in a regional town and patients are very open to the idea, they often refer to myself and my colleagues as doctor. We do a lot of co-management of patients here and specialise in several areas; therefore the term is very well received.

We do not use the term on our letterheads, nor signing off on patient referrals.

Of note, whenever this term is used, my colleagues have then specified that they are optometrists, or therapeutics goods providers.”

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