A physician has to obtain a license in order to practice medicine and practicing without a license is violation of law and constitutes a criminal offense. In addition to criminal prosecution, a physician who practices without a license will also face civil sanctions.
Under certain state statutes, the unlicensed practice of a physician is restrained through an injunction. Even if there are no express statutes restraining unlicensed medical practice, a court has power to pass orders against the unlicensed practice of medicine[i]. A court may interfere in a situation where a practicing physician is not efficient and untrained because practice by such a person is injurious to public health. The power of a court to prevent such an injury has been recognized by various courts in the U.S[ii]. A court may also impose civil sanctions where a criminal prosecution is not considered to be sufficient to prevent such practice.
The attorney general of a state has the power to institute suits against unlicensed medical practice. A private individual or a representative of a group of persons may also bring a suit for injunction. In an action to prohibit the unlicensed practice of medicine, it is necessary to prove that the defendant is not licensed, and s/he has done acts constituting the practice of medicine. If these factors are shown, a plaintiff will be entitled to an injunction[iii]. However a person may not move for an injunction to restrain unlicensed practice for his/her own selfish motive like, protecting oneself against competition from an unlicensed physician.
Unlicensed medical practice is a public offense in most states. A state has the power to regulate the rules of medical practice and issue a license to practice medicine. A state may make law declaring the unlicensed medical practice a crime. The unlicensed practice of medicine is an offense that does not require criminal intent for it to constitute a crime. However, medical practice not involving criminal or evil acts is not considered a criminal offense in common law. Also, if a person practices for no compensation, then it may not be considered as practice of medicine and they will not be held liable for practicing medicine without a license. But, receiving some kind of contribution in return for a service may be considered as a practice done for compensation[iv].
A person who supports another involved in unlicensed practice will be guilty of violating the law in the jurisdictions where the unlicensed practice of medicine is a misdemeanor. The fact that the person who supports the unlicensed practice is a person having a license does not relieve him/her from the liability of aiding an offense. Evidence that an unlicensed individual, who shared office space with a dentist, provided dental services with the dentist’s knowledge was not sufficient to constitute a statutory violation warranting revocation of the dentist’s license[v].
If a statute stating the requirements to obtain a license is declared invalid, then no penalty can be assessed against the unlicensed practitioner.
[i] State v. Howard, 214 Iowa 60, 1932 Iowa Sup. LEXIS 55.
[ii] State v. Howard, 214 Iowa 60, 1932 Iowa Sup. LEXIS 55.
[iii] Nighohossian v. State, 75 Ariz. 162 (Ariz. 1953).
[iv] Nighohossian v. State, 75 Ariz. 162 (Ariz. 1953).
[v] Smith v. State ex rel. Board of Governors of the Registered Dentists of Oklahoma, No. 38109, Supreme Court of Oklahoma, 1958 OK 215; 330 P.2d 366; 1958 Okla. LEXIS 572.