Practicing without a license
Practicing without a license is the act of working without the licensure offered for that occupation, in a particular jurisdiction. Most activities that require licensure also have penalties for practicing without a valid, current license. In some jurisdictions, a license is offered but not required for some professions.
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Higher category: Law and Common law
Fields where practicing without a license may carry civil or criminal penalties include lawyer, physician, physician assistant, optometrist, audiologist speech language pathologist, podiatrist, surgeon, coroner, medical examiner, paramedic, funeral director, osteopath, chiropractor, dentist, pharmacist, engineer, pilot, broadcasting, nurse, veterinarian, midwife, teacher, psychologist, notary public, surveyor, detective, social worker, architect, barber, hairdresser, electrologist, tattooist, cosmetologist, real estate agent, plumber, florist, accountant, and masseuse. If a person offering their services is licensed in one of these professions, any member of the public has a right to know if that person is validly licensed or not by the licensing authority. Anyone who claims to have a license and refuses to identify themselves properly by first and last name can possibly lose any one or all of their licenses. In many jurisdictions, it is illegal for service providers to hide their identities for purposes of making it difficult to verify licensure and past disciplinary actions or license violations.
License requirements vary widely with jurisdiction, sometimes even within a single country. Practicing a professional discipline without a license may be legal in some jurisdictions. For example, nine U.S. states have passed health freedom laws that protect alternative practitioners such as herbalists from prosecution for "practicing medicine without a license." In the area of mental health, Oregon offers broad licensing exemptions for professional counselors and marriage and family therapists, allowing people to practice these professions either with or without a license. Colorado requires registration but not licensing for psychotherapists. Other states also have exemptions or registration requirements instead of, or in addition to licensing for some professions.
Other unlicensed activity
Other occupations, such as operating a business or working as a professional driver or mariner, may require specialized licensure, as well. Operating a business without proper licenses can result in financial and sometimes criminal penalties. These licenses can include a general business license, a liquor license, a specialized drivers license, and other types regulated by local, regional, state, or federal requirements. Certain occupations may require obtaining appropriate intellectual property licenses, such as music licensing, brand licensing, patent licensing, software licensing, and other permissions for use.
Nonprofessional activities may also require licenses for participation. These include driver's license, amateur radio license, dog license, firearms license, hunting license, marriage license, and pilot license. Using certain products or services may also require obtaining a license, such as a software license. Operating without these licenses can lead to civil and criminal penalties.
Penalties vary depending on the severity of the infraction, but practicing without a valid, current license may be punishable by one or more methods, including community service, fine, restitution, probation, and temporary or permanent loss of the license. Criminal charges can lead to incarceration, as they can range from a misdemeanor to a felony, depending on the severity of the infraction.
On July 6, 1885, Louis Pasteur, a chemist who was a pioneer in microbiology, treated Joseph Meister after the boy was mauled by a dog infected with rabies with a vaccination treatment that had thus far only been tested on animals. This was technically illegal, considering Pasteur was not a licensed physician, but his colleagues agreed that since Pasteur's treatment seemed the only viable option to save the boy from almost certain death, it had been a necessary bending of the law, and since the treatment was a complete success, Pasteur was feted as a hero, and charges were never filed.
The "yogurt defense" was made famous by the trial of Carol Downer, one of the developers of menstrual extraction. She was arrested at her self-help group and charged with practicing medicine without a license, as she inserted yogurt into the vagina of another woman to treat a yeast condition. Downer was acquitted; the jury did not equate inserting yogurt with practicing medicine.
A contemporary example is a San Francisco Bay Area resident, Kim Thien Le, who had a valid pharmacy technician license that had expired, and who had practiced as a pharmacist—supervising pharmacist and pharmacy technician interns, giving vaccinations, and filling prescriptions and counseling patients on medication—at at least three Walgreens pharmacies (in Fremont, Milpitas, and San Jose) between 2006 and October 2017, when she was caught. An investigation by the California Attorney General and the California State Board Of Pharmacy is ongoing. If Le avoids criminal prosecution or civil lawsuits, the stores could still face penalties such as formal reprimands, fines, or loss of their pharmacy business license, and she would likely not be able to practice again as a pharmacy technician. She filled at least 745,000 prescriptions, some for dangerous or complex legal drugs or for people with serious conditions, over this period. She used licenses of two separate individuals, at least one of whom had a similar name to hers, to avoid detection by the company or the board.
Black Jack is a Japanese comic book series created by Tezuka Osamu that is about the world's greatest surgeon, who chooses to remain unlicensed. This allows Black Jack to charge extortionate amounts of money instead of the standard fees agreed upon by the Japanese Medical Association. It also lets him perform extremely dangerous, often medically implausible or impossible operations, that are not legally allowed. Black Jack is often viewed as the Japanese equivalent to Batman, in his willingness to routinely break laws to save lives for which he is frequently imprisoned by the police. Notably, Black Jack actually completed his college medical education and carries a driver's license, though he encourages other unlicensed doctors who have no such formal training. Like many of Osamu's works, Black Jack is extraordinarily critical of the medical establishment, and is notable for raising Japanese public awareness of medical corruption.
The majority of superheroes in comic books investigate crimes without detectives' licenses. In Detective Comics, The Question, Dick Grayson, Detective Chimp John Constantine and John Jones/Martian Manhunter are all licensed detectives or police officers, while Wally West, the third Flash, is a professional crime-scene investigator. Jonah Hex is a bounty hunter operating under the loose legal framework of the wild west. The Green Lantern Corps patrols the D.C. universe and enforces the ancient intergalactic laws of the guardians of Oa. In Marvel Comics, Frank Castle used to be a policeman, but after his wife and child were shot to death, he left the force forever and became the mass-murdering vigilante The Punisher.
Batman is one of only three members of the Justice League with any medical training, but is the only one who lacks an official doctorate and license to practice medicine. Nevertheless, he occasionally performs surgery on his teammates. He is also the son of the doctor Thomas Wayne. In Marvel Comics, the former neurosurgeon Stephen Strange, in desperate search of a cure for his crippled hands, wasted all of his money on alternative medicine, which did not heal him. Homeless, Doctor Strange performed back-alley surgeries for cash, barely able to hold the instruments.
Victor Frankenstein, though often incorrectly referred to as a doctor, is only a medical student, and as such, operated on his monster without a license. Prior to the monster's vivification, Frankenstein and his assistant Igor were also acting as unlicensed morticians.
The movie Patch Adams, among other historical inaccuracies, showed the title character practicing medicine without a license, and getting his equipment by stealing from a hospital.
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- "Practicing Your Profession In Oregon Without a License, Legally and Ethically" Oregon Unlicensed Practitioners, December 6, 2014
- "Health Freedom Laws Passed" National Health Freedom Coalition, 2014
- "An Historical Overview of CAPS Legislative Activities" Colorado Association of Psychotherapists, 2013
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- Ruzek, Sheryl Burt. (1978) "The Women's Health Movement Feminist Alternatives to Medical Control", New York: Praeger Publishers. p. 57
- PM, ML Nestel On 1/31/19 at 4:17 (January 31, 2019). "Fake Walgreens pharmacist prescribed nearly 800,000 scripts over a decade". Newsweek. Retrieved February 6, 2019.
- Vives, Ruben (January 30, 2019). "Fake Walgreens pharmacist handled over 700,000 prescriptions, state officials say". latimes.com. Retrieved February 6, 2019.
- Geha, Joseph (January 30, 2019). "Bay Area Walgreens' fake pharmacist handled more than 700,000 prescriptions, state agency alleges". chicagotribune.com. Retrieved February 6, 2019.
- Cian O'Luanaigh (2010). "Osamu Tezuka: Father of manga and scourge of the medical establishment". Retrieved November 15, 2013.