According to Virgin Islands law, the unauthorized practice of medicine, surgery, osteopathy, optometry, naturopathy, podiatry, or any other system of the treatments of injuries, diseases, pain, or deformity is illegal[i]. This subchapter shall not apply to dentistry, nursing, or chiropractic medicine. Persons who want to practice the above mentioned disciplines are mandatorily required to obtain a license[ii].
The state Board of Medical Examiners is the designated authority charged with the issuance, revocation, and suspension of physician licenses in this regard. The Board also has the power and duty to determine the issue of recognition of medical schools and to adopt, amend, and release the rules, regulations, and bylaws relating to the organization and operation of the Board, and the licensing and registration of practitioners in accordance with generally accepted medical standards[iii].
An applicant for license must have completed twenty-one years of age and have resided in the Virgin Islands for six consecutive months immediately preceding his/her application and be of good moral character as shown by at least two letters of character testimony favorable to applicant. However, the residence requirements shall not apply to residents of the Virgin Islands who have been absent studying or practicing any of the sciences covered by this subchapter[iv]. The applicant must not be a drug abuser and must be a graduate of a school of medicine or related profession which has been accredited by an accrediting agency recognized and approved by the National Commission on Accrediting in the United States Office of Education, the United States Department of Health, Education, and Welfare[v].
However, in the case of foreign medical graduates, a permanent certificate issued by the Educational Council for Foreign Medical Graduates, or proof of post-graduate specialty training in an institution accredited by an agency recognized and approved by the National Commission on Accrediting in the United States Office of Education, United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare will be sufficient.
The Board shall hold regular examinations at least twice a year in the United States Virgin Islands for admission to practice medicine[vi]. The Board may issue temporary licenses to persons who are employed with the Government for a period not exceeding twelve months and the applicant shall have graduated from a Board approved school of medicine and have at least one year of internship or residency in a hospital recognized by the American Medical Association and not have passed the examination for permanent licensure[vii]. A temporary license may be renewed once.
In addition, the Board also has power to grant, without examination, a special unrestricted license for a five-year period to a physician who has an unrestricted license to practice and who has completed an accredited residency program in his specialty that is approved by the American Medical Association[viii]. The fee for an unrestricted license is $500.00. If a special unrestricted licensee is terminated by or resigns from the Government before the five-year license period expires, the person’s license shall be revoked by the Board from the date of resignation or termination. On the other hand, if the physician remains with the Government for the five-year period, the Board shall waive the examination requirements and issue a permanent license to the physician.
In order to ensure the professional competency of all the permanent and institutional licensees, the Board shall require such licensees to complete at least 40 hours of continuing medical education each year[ix]. It is to be noted that the Board may accept an average of 40 hours, but under no circumstances less than 25 hours of continuing medical education each year over a three-year period[x].
The licensees shall, within 30 days after issuance, register said licenses in the office of the Board of Medical Examiners. The Board may revoke or suspend the license of any person who is found to be guilty of any unprofessional or dishonorable conduct, including habitual drunkenness, the drug habit or excessive use of narcotics, the producing of criminal abortion or the soliciting of patronage by agents[xi]. However, the Board will take such disciplinary measures only after providing due notice and hearing.
Persons who fail to obtain a license prior to practice or who violate the regulations shall be fined not more than $500 or imprisoned not more than six months, or both[xii]. However, a person who voluntarily and gratuitously renders emergency assistance to a person in need shall not be liable for civil damages for any personal injuries or property damage which result from acts or omissions by such person in rendering emergency assistance, which may constitute ordinary negligence, but not to acts or omissions constituting gross, willful, or wanton negligence[xiii].
[i] 27 V.I.C. § 31.
[ii] 27 V.I.C. § 32.
[iii] 27 V.I.C. § 33.
[iv] 27 V.I.C. § 34.
[vi] 27 V.I.C. § 35.
[vii] 27 V.I.C. § 38a.
[viii] 27 V.I.C. § 38c.
[ix] 27 V.I.C. § 38d.
[xi] 27 V.I.C. § 39.
[xii] 27 V.I.C. § 41.
[xiii] 27 V.I.C. § 42.