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Local nurse to pay nearly $20,000 in settlement for “unlawfully advertising herself as ‘Doctor'”


SAN LUIS OBISPO COUNTY, Calif. – Sarah Erny, a nurse practitioner from Arroyo Grande, agreed to an injunction and to pay  $19,750 in civil penalties for inferring she was a medical doctor to the public, according to District Attorney Dan Dow.

The DA's office said that Erny, R.N., N.P., referred to herself as "Doctor Sarah" on her professional website and social media accounts, which violates the Business and Professions Code.

According to Dow, Sarah Erny earned a doctorate degree in nursing practice and shortly thereafter, she began promoting herself as "Doctor Sarah Erny." 

From October 2018 until March 2022, Dow said Erny hosted a professional website and was active on various social media accounts wherein she identified herself as "Dr. Sarah Erny."

Dow said that while in most instances Erny indicated that she was a nurse practitioner, she failed to advise the public that she was not a medical doctor and failed to identify her supervising physician.

The DA's office added that online search results would also list "Dr. Sarah Erny," without any mention of Erny’s nurse status.

California’s Business and Professions Code prohibits all but a select few health care professionals from calling themselves "doctor" or "physician," according to the DA's office. 

State law permits titles such as "Certified Nurse Practitioner," and "Advanced Practice Registered Nurse" for specially trained registered nurses, such as nurse practitioners, according to Dow.

"We want all health care professionals to clearly display their education and licensure so that patients know who is providing their care," said Dow. "All forms of professional medical services advertising, including websites and social media accounts, must be free of deceptive or misleading information and must clearly identify the professional license held by the advertiser. Providing patients upfront with the proper title of our health care professionals aids consumers in making a more informed decision about their health care."

The civil judgment requires Erny to pay civil penalties and to refrain from referring to herself as "doctor" in her role of providing medical treatment to the public, according to the DA's office.

Dow said that it also requires Erny to identify and make reasonable efforts to correct information on internet sites referring to her as "doctor" or "Dr."

For more information, click here.

Article Topic Follows: San Luis Obispo County
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Lily Dallow

Lily Dallow is a digital journalist and assignment editor at News Channel 3-12. To learn more about Lily, click here.


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