Is a physiotherapist a doctor? Can physiotherapists use Dr.?

Is a physiotherapist a doctor? The degree granted to physiotherapists is called doctor of physiotherapy. This degree however is neither a doctorate nor is it the same as a medical doctor degree (MD or DO). Hence, this degree title causes a lot of confusion both among patients and healthcare providers.

History of physiotherapists being labeled doctors.

Physiotherapists were initially allowed to write Dr. at the start of their name by most medical associations, in a lot of countries. This included countries like the US, UK, Australia, India, Pakistan, etc. This however led to a lot of confusion as patients were not able to distinguish between medical physicians and physiotherapists. This trend then also started to trickle down into diploma holders who then also started using Dr. with their name. Most healthcare providers thought that Dr. was a term synonymous with being a healthcare provider and started using it. The medical associations realized this problem quickly and then retracted the decision to allow non-MD, DO, MBBS, BDS, and Ph.D. holders from writing Dr. with their name.

The healthcare workers refused to acknowledge this change and continued on writing Dr. with their names especially in countries like UK, India, Pakistan, etc. This lead to the government stepping in and it was declared illegal to use Dr. with one’s name if you did not have the correct qualification and medical license to be labeled as such. The medical associations also started debarring licenses of healthcare providers who continued to use Dr.

Is a physiotherapist a doctor?
Photo by Mikhail Nilov

US rules for writing prefix Dr. concerning physiotherapists

In the US, however, the medical associations allow doctors of physical therapy to write the prefix Dr. with their name. But they must be absolutely clear to write it in a way that is not confusing for the patients to understand. For e.g. they can write Dr. Jones physical therapist. However, they are not allowed to simply write Dr. Jones. This is so that people can appreciate their long study duration and clinical training to earn the title. But the distinction is made by writing physiotherapist or physical therapist at the end of their name to tell the patients that they are not the ones, who are licensed to perform surgery or treat their sore throat and headache.

Some states have strict laws against using the prefix Dr. and they allow only certain professionals to use them. So, it is best to check with your state laws to understand the exact rules regarding this that are being implemented. As rules differ among the different states, you should definitely consider getting a legal opinion regarding this. If you have further questions you can definitely read the guidelines on the American Association of Physiotherapy website.

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