What Is Medical Licensing?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Nancy Fann-Im
  • Last Modified Date: 16 March 2019
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Medical licensing is a mechanism for the regulation of medical practitioners where a formal organization must evaluate anyone who plans to practice medicine and determine if physicians, nurses, and other health care providers are fit to do so. It is not legal to practice medicine without a license. Licensure also usually requires periodic continuing education and recertification to ensure that care providers are still capable of offering a reasonable standard of care to their patients. Medical licensing protects patients and improves the quality of the medical profession.

In medical training like medical school or nursing school, practitioners learn about how to practice medicine and manage the numerous legal and ethical issues that may arise. Training and a degree are not enough to qualify a practitioner, however. She must also go through medical licensing, and apply for permission to practice medicine in a given area. A doctor with a license in one region may need to apply for a new license if he intends to move and practice medicine somewhere else, as the standards may be different.


Regulatory agencies in charge of medical licensing use legal requirements set out by the government as well as internal standards to evaluate candidates. Usually it is necessary to take a certifying exam and submit supporting materials, including transcripts. The organization will run a background check to evaluate practitioners for any issues that might interfere with the ability to practice medicine. After a thorough review, which usually takes between three and six months, the organization can grant a medical license.

The process of medical licensing also involves continuing certification standards to make sure that practitioners are keeping up with the practice of medicine. Licensing organizations have the power to revoke medical licenses if they feel practitioners are no longer fit, and they can also suspend them as a penalizing measure. Before suspension or revocation can take place, the organization will investigate, relying on testimony from witnesses, information about the charges, and other material to decide if a practitioner should be subject to penalties.

Some organizations allow practitioners to practice while they are waiting for their licenses, as long as they do so under the supervision of another physician. Medical interns, for example, are in training and do not qualify to apply for medical licenses yet, but still practice medicine to develop clinical skills. Qualified doctors supervise and check their work both to provide training and to make sure that patients are safe.



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