CSA News

ASA Applauds New Hampshire Supreme Court's Decision to Ban Nurses' Use of Physician Term, Anesthesiologist

Mar 10, 2021
Use of ‘anesthesiologist’ by nurses misleading and confusing to patients.

CHICAGO – The American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) today applauds the New Hampshire Supreme Court for upholding the New Hampshire Board of Medicine’s  decision that health care professionals using the term “anesthesiologist” must be licensed physicians and meet all of the requirements to practice medicine in the state.

“This is a big win for patients. Every patient deserves to be certain about exactly who is performing and responsible for their anesthesia care during a procedure or surgery,” said ASA President Beverly K. Philip, M.D., FACA, FASA. “It is vital that all health care providers use only the titles that correctly align with their license, education and training. Since the word was first coined, the term ‘anesthesiologist’ has referred to physicians, specifically to differentiate them from nurse anesthetists. As a result, using the word as part of a nursing title only confuses patients. It is well understood and professional health care organizations agree – anesthesiology is the practice of medicine.”

The New Hampshire Supreme Court noted, “The record before the Board of Medicine included, among other things, studies, surveys, and licensure requirements highlighting similarities and differences between CRNAs and physician anesthesiologists and the public’s understanding of that distinction. It is evident that those materials formed the foundation for the Board of Medicine’s conclusion that anesthesiology is a subset of the practice of medicine and professionals who refer to themselves as ‘anesthesiologists’ must hold a license to practice medicine.”

Both ASA and the American Medical Association (AMA) noted in their previously submitted amicus curiae brief that nurses are not anesthesiologists, in the same way that they are not physicians.

ASA and AMA also wrote that if patients confuse nurse anesthetists with anesthesiologists, the patient may consent to receiving anesthesia believing incorrectly that they are under the care of a medical doctor, not a nurse. A nurse’s use of the inaccurate and confusing title blocks the patient’s informed choice of provider and blocks the patient’s ability to provide proper informed consent.

This decision to support the Board of Medicine’s ruling that protects patients and the public from nurses calling themselves anesthesiologists aligns with the common use of medical titles throughout the country and keeps New Hampshire from being an outlier on this important issue.

Numerous health care organizations cite anesthesiology as the practice of medicine:

  • The Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs, the accrediting agency for nurse anesthetists, defines “anesthesiologist” as a “doctor of medicine (M.D.) or doctor of osteopathy (DO) who has successfully completed an approved anesthesiology residency program.”
  • The World Health Organization views “anesthesiology as a medical practice” that should be directed and supervised by an anesthesiologist.
  • ASA and AMA policy is that “anesthesiology is the practice of medicine.”