Unlicensed Practice of Medicine

In California, it is illegal to practice medicine without a valid license. It can arise in any number of situations, from allowing an employee to practice medicine without a license to working for a practice that is owned by unlicensed individuals to offering online medical services to a patient in California when you are not licensed by the state.

The unlicensed practice of medicine can result in both disciplinary actions by a healthcare licensing board as well as criminal charges. The criminal offense of the unauthorized practice of medicine can lead to jail time, probation, and significant fines. If your licensing board charges you with the unlicensed practice of medicine, you may face discipline or even revocation of your license.

If you are facing professional and/or criminal sanctions for the unlicensed practice of medicine, the first and most important thing that you can do is to reach out to a skilled San Diego healthcare license defense attorney. Your lawyer can address both the criminal and professional aspects of the matter, working to help you retain your license and your freedom.

What Is the Unlicensed Practice of Medicine?

The unauthorized practice of medicine is defined by the California Business & Professions Code Section 2052(BPC). It involves: 

  1. Practicing, attempting to practice, or advertising or holding yourself out as practicing any system or mode of treating illness or affliction;
  2. Diagnosing, treating, operating on, or prescribing medication for any ailment, blemish, deformity, disease, disfigurement, disorder, injury, or other physical or mental condition; or
  3. Conspiring with, or aiding and abetting, someone else to do any of the above.

A violation of this law can result in both professional discipline from the Medical Board of California (MBC), or another licensing board, as well as criminal charges. Unauthorized practice of medicine is a wobbler offense, which means that it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on your criminal history and the facts of the case.

This type of charge can arise in many ways. For example, if a person is a licensed physician in a different state or country, but is not licensed in California, they could be arrested for the unauthorized practice of medicine if they treat patients. Other examples of the unauthorized practice of medicine include:

  • Exceeding the scope of your nursing, dental, physician assistant, or medical license
  • Allowing a medical assistant, or another individual, perform duties that require a professional license
  • Performing a procedure without the required supervision
  • Working without a medical license
  • Aestheticians giving injections, such as botox
  • Virtually diagnosing and/or treating a patient in California through a website or other format without a license to practice medicine in California
  • Practicing medicine while on suspension, probation, or with a revoked license

Significantly, this law covers a broad range of actions and is not limited to a particular type of medicine. It applies to any system or mode of treating the sick or afflicted, and to diagnosing, treating, operating, and/or prescribing any physical or mental health condition. It may be charged both when a person practices or attempts to practice medicine, or advertises or holds themself out as practicing without a license to do so.

It also prohibits the ownership of medical practices by a person who is not a licensed healthcare professional in California. Even if the owners of the practice do not provide any medical services, they could be charged with unauthorized practice of medicine simply for owning it. Similarly, any doctor who works for the owners could be charged for aiding and abetting the unauthorized practice of medicine.

Aiding and abetting the unlicensed practice of medicine can happen in a number of ways. One of the most common situations occurs when doctors delegate tasks to nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, medical assistants, or other staff when the task must be done by a doctor or someone with a different license.

For example, a doctor allows a nurse to inject botox into a patient without first conducting a good faith exam. The nurse could face a charge of unlicensed practice, while the doctor is charged with aiding and abetting in the unlicensed practice of medicine. This is often a risk at medical spas.

When doctor’s offices or hospitals don’t have standard operating procedures, this may also give rise to these types of charges. Standard operating procedures allow nurses to perform basic medical tasks without a specific order from a doctor. If a nurse performs these tasks in the absence of these procedures, both the nurse and the doctor could face disciplinary action related to the unlicensed practice of medicine.

The statute does not require that anyone experience bodily harm or illness as a result of your actions. In other words, even if you practice medicine competently, you could be charged with this crime and face professional discipline. 

Charges You May Face for the Unlicensed Practice of Medicine

If the police or a licensing board charge you with the unauthorized or unlicensed practice of medicine, you may face both professional and criminal charges. The specific discipline that you will face will be determined by your licensing board. A prosecutor may also charge you with a criminal offense.

For example, if you are a physician licensed by the MBC, you may be subject to disciplinary action for aiding and abetting the unlicensed practice of medicine in certain situations. The minimum penalty is a stayed revocation with 5 years of probation. The maximum penalty is a revocation of your medical license.

The unauthorized practice of medicine can be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the facts of the case and your criminal history. If charged as a misdemeanor, it may be punished by misdemeanor probation, up to 1 year in county jail, and/or a fine of up to $1,000. As a felony, it is punishable by felony probation, between 16 months and 3 years in county jail, and/or a fine of up to $10,000.

When to Contact an Attorney

If an Accusation has been filed against you regarding the unlicensed practice of medicine, or if you are under licensing or criminal investigation for the same, you should contact an experienced healthcare license defense attorney as soon as possible. While these charges are serious, there are a number of potential defenses. 

Getting ahead of the issue may give you the opportunity to present your side of the story and mitigate criminal and/or professional sanctions. Because what you say in a disciplinary action could be used against you in a criminal matter, and vice versa, it is critical to work with a lawyer to protect your rights and your license.

At the Law Offices of Nicole Irmer, we offer a compassionate, knowledgeable representation of healthcare professionals. For each medical license defense case, we develop a comprehensive strategy to address every facet of the problem. To learn more or to schedule a consultation with a San Diego medical license defense attorney, call us at (619) 237-6130 or email us at any time.