Should We Call Occupational Therapists Doctors – For Those with Doctorate Degrees…

Introduction

There was a post on Reddit about someone who was looking into pursuing a doctorate degree in OT. The story goes that the faculty advisor told them that one appeal of attaining a doctorate in occupational therapy is “being able to call yourself a doctor”.

Today I met with one of my professors (a DPT who has been my academic UG, not grad school, advisor and he recommended I go OTD instead of MOT because of the “title recognition” of Doctor rather than just simply Mr. or Ms. He said it is helpful in the healthcare field when working with patients or making phone calls because you can address yourself as Dr. And that seems to hold a higher importance to who you’re working with, even if it’s just a title.

Very controversial indeed. First of all, I think there is a difference between academia and clinical practice. You may remember having called some of your professors Dr. so and so. I think this is different and okay. But in clinical practice, this is where there may be issues and a cause for confusion.

Similar Professions

Before we get into the issue of OTs (and PTs for that matter) and whether they can call themselves and have others such as patients call them that, we can look at other professions. A common one is chiropractors. For example, the chiropractic group that I go to all encourage and introduce themselves as Dr. so and so.

I’ve always thought this was weird and I actually feel a little uncomfortable calling them that – especially because I am in the healthcare profession and I think of doctors as being different in real-world clinical practice.

r/Noctor

There’s even a subreddit called Noctor. The banner image literally has in bold words “NOT A REAL DOCTOR”.

An Issue of Language

One Reddit user made a good point and that is an issue of our language and one term [doctor] being used for two different meanings 1) doctorate 2) physicians.

To kind of joke about this point, some insist that if they have a doctorate we call them a doctorate right? I have a master’s degree in OT. So does that mean you should call me a master? 😛

Another good proposal is to abandon calling those we traditionally think of as doctors as doctors and instead call them physicians. This may be a good way to avoid confusion for the public yet allow those who have earned a doctorate to be called a doctor.

Personally, I like the term doctor more because it is easier to say (two syllables) than physician (three syllables and harder to spell out mentally).

Can OTs Be Called Doctors?

One reddit user, E-phemera commented, “people barely know what OT is let alone that there’s a doctoral degree for it… Please do not go for the doctorate for “title recognition” because that doesn’t exist in this field. The masters degree will get you the exact same job opportunities and it costs less.”

Another user, tyrelltsura said, “It is actually unethical to refer to yourself as Dr. So and So outside of academic situations. AOTA and ACOTE both agree that you’re not entitled to the title outside of that, such as when working with patients.”

This makes sense as “real doctors” are referred to as doctors by the healthcare team and by patients, while those who hold doctorate degrees may include occupational and physical therapists.

Texas OT State License Violation Example

This Reddit thread led me to a FAQ for the Texas Board of OT Examiners.

So, at least for OTAs and OTs licensed in Texas, it is considered a violation and is unethical? for occupational therapy practitioners to call themselves doctors. More states probably have a similar kind of thing.

Let’s play devil’s advocate now in contrast to Texas, California seems to be the complete opposite!

California Code for Occupational Therapy

According to 2018 California Code Business and Professions Code – BPC
DIVISION 2 – HEALING ARTS CHAPTER 5.6 – Occupational Therapy Section 2570.18,

(c) A licensee who has earned a doctoral degree in occupational therapy (OTD) or, after adoption of the regulations described in subdivision (e), a doctoral degree in a related area of practice or study may do the following:

(1) In a written communication, use the initials OTD, DrPH, PhD, or EdD, as applicable, following the licensee’s name.

(2) In a written communication, use the title “Doctor” or the abbreviation “Dr.” preceding the licensee’s name, if the licensee’s name is immediately followed by an unabbreviated specification of the applicable doctoral degree held by the licensee.

(3) In a spoken communication while engaged in the practice of occupational therapy, use the title “Doctor” preceding the licensee’s name, if the licensee specifies that he or she is an occupational therapy practitioner.

Interesting…and very very confusing for our patients, I think.

Keep in mind that this code may be outdated by the time you read this article. I looked at the 2021 code and it appears to be the same for bullet points 2 and 3.

Conclusion

So what do you think of this controversial issue?

This is not just limited to the profession of occupational therapy. It’s in physical therapy, chiropractic, I believe even PAs and NPs – which is another can of worms.

 — Master Jeff 😉

Sources

  • reddit.com/r/OccupationalTherapy/comments/y3b9bd/doctorate_vs_masters/
  • reddit.com/r/OccupationalTherapy/comments/pcaxi6/ots_with_doctorates_are_you_called_dr_in_your/
  • reddit.com/r/Noctor/comments/pm6uss/occupational_therapyugh/
  • https://ptot.texas.gov/2-can-an-ot-or-ota-use-the-title-doctor/
  • https://law.justia.com/codes/california/2018/code-bpc/division-2/chapter-5.6/section-2570.18/

 

Jeff is a licensed occupational therapist and lead content creator for OT Dude. He covers all things occupational therapy as well as other topics including healthcare, wellness, mental health, technology, science, sociology, and philosophy. Buy me a Coffee on Venmo.