District Attorney Dan Dow announces settlement with Arroyo Grande nurse over illegal advertising


District Attorney Announces Civil Settlement With Nurse Practitioner For Illegally Advertising Herself As ‘Doctor’

Author: Public Prosecutor

Date: 14/11/2022 12:20:46

Local nurse practitioner Sarah Erny is accepting an injunction and $19,750 in civil penalties for violating the Business and Professions Code by inferring to the public that she was a doctor.

District Attorney Dan Dow announced today that the District Attorney’s Office Special Prosecutions Unit has reached a settlement with a local nurse practitioner who self-identified on his professional website and social media accounts. under the name “Doctor Sarah”.

Sarah Erny, RN, NP, earned a doctorate in nursing practice. Soon after, she began promoting herself as “Doctor Sarah Erny”. From October 2018 to March 2022, Ms. Erny hosted a professional website and was active on various social media accounts in which she identified herself as “Dr. Sarah Erny. Although in most cases, Ms. Erny indicated that she was a nurse practitioner, she failed to inform the public that she was not a doctor and did not identify her supervising physician, adding to the lack of clarity caused by referring to herself as ” dr. Sarah,” the online search results would show “Dr. Sarah Erny,” with no mention of Ms. Erny’s nursing status.

California’s Business and Professions Code prohibits all but a few medical professionals from calling themselves “physician” or “physician.” When it comes to specially trained registered nurses, such as nurse practitioners, California law allows titles such as “Certified Nurse Practitioner” and “Advanced Practice Registered Nurse.” Courts have held that the purpose of limiting the use of titles in health care is to protect the public by ensuring that each health care provider properly represents themselves in their true capacity by an appropriate title. Simply put, healthcare providers have a great need to clearly and honestly state their level of training and licensing in all of their advertising and marketing materials.

Recent national surveys indicate that the public is confused about who is and who is not a doctor. Funded by the American Medical Association, and reported in the “Truth in Advertising Campaign”, polls indicate that 39% of respondents mistakenly identified a Doctor of Nursing Practice as a doctor and 19% mistakenly believed a nurse practitioner to be a doctor. That is, there is a great need for healthcare providers to clearly and honestly state their level of training and licensing in all of their advertising and marketing materials.

“We want all healthcare professionals to clearly display their training and licensing so patients know who is providing their care,” District Attorney Dan Dow said. “All forms of professional medical services advertising, including websites and social media accounts, must be free of misleading or misleading information and must clearly identify the professional license held by the advertiser. Starting out with the appropriate title of our healthcare professionals helps consumers make a more informed decision about their healthcare.

The civil judgment requires Ms. Erny to pay civil fines totaling $19,750 and to refrain from calling herself a “doctor” in her role of providing medical care to the public. It also obligates Ms. Erny to identify and make reasonable efforts to correct information on websites referring to her as “Doctor” or “Dr.”

This matter was investigated by the Department of Consumer Affairs, the Health Quality Investigation Unit, and the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office of Investigation and was prosecuted by the Assistant District Attorney Kenneth Jorgensen assigned to the District Attorney’s Consumer and Environmental Protection Unit.

Click here for a copy of the Civil Complaint and Stipulated Final Judgment.

Our consumer protection team is committed to protecting the public from illegal, unfair, fraudulent or deceptive business practices. Consumer protection cases can be brought in criminal or civil court. Examples of such cases include contractor fraud, false or misleading advertising, and “bait and switch” scams. The unit also aims to raise awareness of consumer issues through presentations to local groups when requested.

For more information about consumer protection laws or to report suspected violations, contact the California Department of Consumer Affairs Consumer Helpline toll-free at (800) 952-5210 or visit their website at ‘address www.dca.ca.gov/. People who are hard of hearing can call TTY (800) 326-229.

To report a consumer complaint directly to the San Luis Obispo County Attorney’s Office, you can submit a complaint form, available here:


Please contact Assistant District Attorney Eric J. Dobroth at 805.781.5819 with any questions.

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