Issues in Ethics: Use of Graduate Doctoral Degrees by Members and Certificate Holders

About This Document

Published 2018. This Issues in Ethics statement is a revision of Use of Graduate Degrees by Members and Certificate Holders (originally published in 2005, and revised in 2010 and 2013). It has been updated to make any references to the Code of Ethics consistent with the Code of Ethics (2016). The Board of Ethics reviews Issues in Ethics statements periodically to ensure that they meet the needs of the professions and are consistent with ASHA policies.

Issues in Ethics Statements: Definition

From time to time, the Board of Ethics (hereinafter, the "Board") determines that members and certificate holders can benefit from additional analysis and instruction concerning a specific issue of ethical conduct. Issues in Ethics statements are intended to heighten sensitivity and increase awareness. They are illustrative of the Code of Ethics (2016) and are intended to promote thoughtful consideration of ethical issues. They may assist members and certificate holders in engaging in self-guided ethical decision making. These statements do not absolutely prohibit or require specified activity. The facts and circumstances surrounding a matter of concern will determine whether the activity is ethical.


This Issues in Ethics statement is for the guidance of ASHA members and certificate holders concerning the use of terms or designations related to doctorate level education. It specifically addresses degrees from unaccredited institutions, degrees in disciplines other than communication sciences and disorders, and the title “Doctor” (Dr.) used in connection with a professional role/position (e.g., practitioner, educator, researcher, author, presenter, etc.) and/or in promoting or describing professional services.

Principle of Ethics III, Rule A states, “Individuals shall not misrepresent their credentials, competence, education, training, experience, and scholarly contributions.”

Principle of Ethics III, Rule F states, “Individuals' statements to the public shall adhere to prevailing professional norms and shall not contain misrepresentations when advertising, announcing, and promoting their professional services and products and reporting research results.”


Members or certificate holders may reference a doctoral degree in connection with their professional duties or activities in audiology, speech-language pathology, or speech, language, and hearing sciences only if that degree was awarded by a postsecondary educational institution accredited by a regional accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (e.g., the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, Western Association of Schools and Colleges, etc.). In the case of an international institution, an international credential review agency must determine upon official review that the degree meets equivalent standards.

ASHA members and certificate holders may reference only doctoral degrees from accredited institutions to identify themselves professionally, to announce their services, and to credit their professional contributions to the public, colleagues, and individuals who receive their services. The same applies to including a doctoral degree designation on stationery and business cards and in catalogs, advertisements, listings, directories, programs, announcements, and any other publications—print or electronic—that identify members or certificate holders for professional purposes.

Doctoral degrees are granted in many disciplines that contribute to an understanding of normal and disordered communication. Nevertheless, there are potential risks of misrepresentation in the use of doctoral degrees in disciplines other than communication sciences and disorders—the discipline that specifically prepares individuals for practice and/or research in audiology; speech-language pathology; and speech, language, and hearing sciences.

When an individual holds a doctoral degree (e.g., PhD, AuD, ScD) from an accredited institution, it is accepted that this individual may use the title “Doctor.” When a doctoral degree is cited among an individual's professional qualifications in any form of advertising or advertisement, the field of study for the degree must be specified in order to avoid confusion and/or misrepresentation. That is, an individual who uses the title “Doctor” or the abbreviation “Dr.” in any form of communications or advertising, in connection with their practice must simultaneously use clarifying language (e.g., title, initials, abbreviation, designation, etc.) that identifies the type of practice for which they are certified or licensed.

An individual whose doctoral studies are outside the field of communication sciences and disorders must avoid using the degree designator in a manner that could confuse clients/patients, payers, other professionals, and/or policymakers and/or be misrepresentative of their professional practice. In such instances, the doctorate designator could misrepresent the level of expertise; some may assume the doctorate is in the same discipline as that in which certification and/or licensure was awarded (i.e., reflects expertise beyond the master's level of training). It is unacceptable for a member/certificate holder with a doctoral degree in a field other than audiology, speech-language pathology, or communication sciences and disorders to explicitly or implicitly refer to themselves as "Doctor of Audiology" or “Doctor of Speech-Language Pathology.”  Also, a descriptor such as “PhD, CCC-SLP” should not be used because the consumer may infer the PhD is in speech-language pathology. Further, it is the responsibility of the ASHA member/certificate holder to correct any such misleading references made about themselves by another person(s).

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