Language Alert! Obama’s “Providers”

In his speech to Congress last night, President Obama referred to “doctors and health care providers.” I’m not sure why he used this language and I may be splitting hairs, but some people might question why he wouldn’t consider physicians to be “health care providers.” Perhaps it’s because physicians hate the phrase. I have heard more than one physician object to it, even when it’s intended to represent all of the people who are involved in providing health care to people. Physicians seem to find it demeaning. It’s almost as if they don’t want to be part of the team—they want to be apart from it and always in the lead, even if they aren’t best suited to be the one leading the team (for example, when a patient with mental health and complex social problems is being seen by an interdisciplinary team that is headed by a social worker who is the best person to coordinate the patient’s care).


This attitude of seeing oneself as special and apart from all others in health care ends up: 1) creating too many unnecessary turf battles (consider physicians’ objections to nurse practitioners with doctorates being called “Doctor Smith” even if the nurse makes it clear to patients that he or she is a nurse practitioner); 2) interfering with access to care (AJN wrote

[subscription required] about physicians’ objecting to nurse practitioners heading—and being paid for–medical or health homes, even when no doctor lives in the community); and 3) undermining respectful teamwork that’s so essential to safe, coordinated care.

–Diana J. Mason, PhD, RN, AJN Editor-in-Chief

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2016-11-21T13:38:45+00:00 February 25th, 2009|career, health care policy, nursing perspective|2 Comments

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  1. Diana Mason, RN March 3, 2009 at 4:43 pm

    Thanks for the post, Jane. I’ve encountered some nurses who object to being called health care “workers” in the belief that it signifies a blue collar mentality. But I agree with your definition and think the more that we can join forces with all of the people involved in providing health care, the better. See my editorial in the January 2009 issue of AJN (, called Blinded By Degrees (subscription required for free access).

  2. Jane Salvage March 3, 2009 at 12:15 pm

    I couldn’t agree with you more. What’s in a name? – clearly a great deal. Seems there is a job to do, as always, in educating politicians about this, even one as apparently enlightened as Obama. We fight the same fight here in the UK, though people are remembering to say ‘the health care team’ more often than they used to. Personally I prefer the good old-fashioned phrase ‘health workers’, which encompasses absolutely everyone including staff like lab assistants and cleaners, who may not be health care providers as such but whose contributions are just as important. I also like the egalitarian ring of ‘workers’ – ‘providers’ sounds as though there must also be ‘consumers’ on the receiving end, but as we all know it’s actually patients and clients (hmm! more tricky labels) who create their own health.

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