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Settlement reached with Arroyo Grande nurse for unlawfully advertising herself as doctor

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Posted at 1:07 PM, Nov 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-14 16:07:56-05

District Attorney Dan Dow announced Monday, November 14 that the District Attorney’s Office Special Prosecution Unit has reached a settlement with a local nurse practitioner who referred to herself on her professional website and social media accounts as “Doctor Sarah.”

Sarah Erny, R.N., N.P., earned a doctorate degree in nursing practice. Shortly after, she began promoting herself as “Doctor Sarah Erny.”

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

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.

Adding to the lack of clarity caused by referring to herself as “Dr. Sarah,” online search results would list “Dr. Sarah Erny,” without any mention of Erny’s nurse status.

California’s Business and Professions Code prohibits all but a select few healthcare professionals from calling themselves “doctors” or “physicians.”

As for specially trained registered nurses, such as nurse practitioners, California law permits titles such as “Certified Nurse Practitioner,” and “Advanced Practice Registered Nurse.” The courts have held that the purpose for limiting the use of titles within the health care field is to protect the public by ensuring every health care provider properly represents themselves in their true capacity by an appropriate title.

The D.A.'s office says there is a great need for healthcare providers to state their level of training and licensing clearly and honestly in all of their advertising and marketing materials.

The civil judgment requires Erny to pay civil penalties totaling $19,750 and to refrain from referring to herself as a “doctor” in her role of providing medical treatment to the public. It also requires Erny to identify and make reasonable efforts to correct information on internet sites referring to her as “doctor” or “Dr.”