Are physiotherapists doctors?
- September 16, 2017 at 2:57pm
- Ben Strachan
This question touches upon several sensitive and complicated issues. Suffice to say that it can lead to many heated discussions - both within the allied health/medical fields as well as the general public.
In short, the answer is both yes and no, although as a physiotherapist myself, I come down more on the NO side of the argument.
Who exactly, is a Doctor?
In normal everyday life, a doctor usually refers to a medical professional that has completed a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery. They have devoted many years studying in medical school and completing internships, rotations etc. in hospitals and other healthcare institutions. All for the privilege of being called experts in the medical field.
To illustrate, if a medical emergency like a heart attack occurs on an airplane, and the hostess yells “Is anyone here a doctor?” these are the people whose expertise is being sought.
What about Doctoral Studies in other Fields?
Confusion arises when considering people who have completed the highest level of study in fields other than medicine. Typically, people who successfully complete a doctorate (PhD) or post-doctoral studies (e.g. D.Sc.) are entitled to call themselves “doctors”.
Please note that in Australia, there is a Doctor of Physiotherapy programme - an extended Masters degree under the Australian Qualifications Framework Level 9 classification. I know colleagues and university lecturers who have completed this programme and understand, as I did, that graduates are entitled to call themselves “Doctor”. So yes, a certain subset of physiotherapists can claim to be doctors.
I'll go out on a limb to say that physios like me should not use the “Doctor” title, as it confuses patients who usually associate the term with medical doctors (e.g. general practitioners, cardiologists, surgeons etc.). Not allied health professionals, who nevertheless perform valuable work for society.
What makes things worse is that certain allied health practitioners – notably chiropractors and osteopaths - regularly refer to themselves as a “Doctor”. Even though their doctorate programmes are easier to complete (in my opinion) than the Doctor of Physiotherapy.
As far as I can tell, neither the osteopath nor the chiropractor doctorate is advanced enough to merit the doctor moniker upon completion.
Yes, physiotherapists who complete advanced studies can be called a doctor. However, I feel using this term should be avoided, as “Doctor” should be reserved for medical professionals.
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