According to Rhode Island law, a “physician” means a person with a license to practice allopathic or osteopathic medicine. Any person who is able to diagnose, treat, operate, or prescribe for any person ill or alleged to be ill with disease, pain, injury, deformity or abnormal physical or mental condition, or who either professes to heal, offer or undertake, by any means or method to diagnose, treat, operate, or prescribe for any person for disease, pain, injury, deformity or physical or mental condition will be deemed to be engaged in the practice of medicine[i]. In addition, persons who attach the title, M.D., physician, surgeon, D.O., osteopathic physician and surgeon, or any other similar abbreviation to his/her name indicating that s/he is engaged in the treatment or diagnosis of the diseases shall be held to be engaged in the practice of medicine[ii].
However, such persons shall obtain a valid license issued by the director of the department of health before practicing allopathic or osteopathic medicine[iii]. Applicants must have graduated from a medical school or school of osteopathic medicine approved by the board and shall meet post graduate training requirements and any other requirements stipulated by the board. In addition, the applicant shall pass any examination that the board may require.
The application fee for license is five hundred and seventy dollars ($ 570) and has to be paid for re-examination, if required.
A licensed practitioner of osteopathic medicine has the right to practice osteopathic medicine in all its branches as taught and shall be subject to the same duties and liabilities and entitled to the same rights and privileges as any other physicians of any school of medicine[iv].
A foreign graduate is entitled to a license if s/he has studied in a medical school recognized by the World Health Organization and has completed all of the formal requirements of the foreign medical school except internship and/or social service[v]. In addition, the person must have attained a satisfactory score in a qualifying examination acceptable to the state board for medicine, and has satisfactorily completed one academic year of supervised clinical training under the direction of any United States medical school. The person must also have completed the post-graduate hospital training required by the board of applicants for licensure and has passed the examination required by the board of all applicants for licensure[vi].
The board can refuse an application for license on various grounds. The grounds for refusal include the applicant’s bad moral record, failure to comply with the license requirements stipulated by the board, violation of laws involving moral turpitude, similar professional misconduct committed in another state, etc[vii]. The term unprofessional conduct shall include any of the following conduct or a combination of such acts:
- Fraudulent or deceptive procuring or use of a license or limited registration;
- Advertising profession with a purpose to deceive public;
- Conviction of a felony or a crime involving moral turpitude;
- Abandoning a patient;
- Drug abuse;
- Forging and filing false reports or records in the practice of medicine or willful omission to file a record or failure to furnish details of a patient’s medical record to succeeding physicians upon proper request;
- Division of fees and making illegal referrals to clinical laboratories;
- Gross and willful overcharging for professional services;
- Offering, undertaking, or agreeing to cure or treat disease by a secret method, procedure, treatment or medicine;
- Professional or mental incompetency;
- Multiple adverse judgments, settlements or awards arising from medical liability claims;
- Failure to furnish the board, information legally requested by the board;
- Cheating on or attempting to subvert the licensing examination;
- Engaging in sexual contact between a physician and patient during the existence of the physician/patient relationship[viii]
Any aggrieved person or organization can submit a written complaint to the board relating to unprofessional conduct by the physician and if the board finds merit in such a complaint, it shall appoint a three-member committee to investigate the complaint. The member who participated in the investigation may not participate in any subsequent hearing and all initial hearings, investigatory hearings, and full hearings before the board shall remain confidential[ix]. The board shall find the person guilty on the basis of the majority of votes cast by the hearing committee[x].
The board may issue subpoenas to compel the production of documents or other written records, or the attendance and testimony of witnesses, at any investigation or hearing. If the physician fails to honor the subpoena, the board may approach a superior court and any failure to obey the order of the court may be punished by the court as civil contempt[xi].
If the accused is found guilty of unprofessional conduct, the board may administer a reprimand or suspend or indefinitely revoke the person’s license or limited registration to practice medicine. The board may also require the person to serve a period of probation subject to certain conditions or to submit to the care, counseling, or treatment of a physician or program acceptable to the board[xii].
A physician has the right to judicial review of the decision of the board by filing a notice of appeal with a complaint in accordance with the rules of civil procedure in the superior court within thirty (30) days after the decision of the director. Any appeal taken to the superior court shall have precedence on the calendar, be considered an emergency matter, and shall be heard in any event not later than thirty (30) days from the date of appeal when practicable[xiii]. It is to be noted that the board may temporarily suspend the license of a physician or limited registrant without a hearing on finding that the accused’s continuation in practice would constitute an immediate danger to the public. In such a case, a hearing by the board must be held within ten (10) days after the suspension has occurred[xiv].
[i] R.I. Gen. Laws § 5-37-1.
[v] R.I. Gen. Laws § 5-37-2.
[vii] R.I. Gen. Laws § 5-37-4.
[viii] R.I. Gen. Laws § 5-37-5.1.
[ix] R.I. Gen. Laws § 5-37-5.2.
[x] R.I. Gen. Laws § 5-37-6.2.
[xi] R.I. Gen. Laws § 5-37-6.
[xii] R.I. Gen. Laws § 5-37-6.3.
[xiii] R.I. Gen. Laws § 5-37-7.
[xiv] R.I. Gen. Laws § 5-37-8§ 5-37-18.2.