The practice of medicine is a tightly regulated profession because it involves such a high risk of potential harm to the public. All states require that anyone wishing to practice medicine as a physician must first obtain a state license to do so. Without such a license, anyone practicing medicine in the state commits a crime.
Each state has its own definition of what it means to practice medicine, though these definitions involved the same general type of activity. A person practices medicine whenever he or she attempts to diagnose a patient, treat medical conditions, prescribe medications or treatments, or perform surgery. The unauthorized practice of medicine also includes advertising your services as a physician, or holding yourself out to the public as a physician, doctor, surgeon, or someone licensed to practice medicine. If you actually perform medical treatments, it is not necessary for you to receive any kind of compensation to be convicted of this crime, nor do your actions have to result in harm to the patient.
There are some actions that are specifically excluded from the crime of practicing medicine without a license. For example, applying home remedies, offering advice, and writing about nutrition or medical conditions are not considered practicing medicine. Also, performing other types of healthcare related activities, such as acting as a pharmacist, nurse, or dentist is also not considered practicing medicine, though states also require people practicing those professions to be properly licensed.
While any instance of practicing medicine without a license is a crime, some actions are more dangerous or harmful than others and states have laws that provide additional penalties for such acts. For example, a state may prohibit anyone from advertising his or her services as a physician as the illegal practice of medicine. That state may also have a law that provides for a harsher penalty if the illegal practice of medicine resulted in someone's financial, physical, or psychological harm. If someone dies as a result of the illegal practice of medicine, more serious charges, such as manslaughter, can apply.
Depending on the circumstances of the case and the state in which the crime occurred, practicing medicine without a license can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony offense. Because of this, the severity of the potential penalties associated with this crime differ significantly among states, and even among cases in the same state.
Even being charged with a practicing medicine without a license crime can permanently affect the rest of your life. These kinds of criminal charges are very serious, and any time you are facing an investigation or charge you need to consult a local criminal defense attorney at the first opportunity. You can be sure to protect all of your rights only if you speak to a local lawyer before making any decisions about your case or speaking with investigators. Local attorneys who understand how the local laws operate, and who have experience with area police, judges, and prosecutors are the only people who can provide you legal advice if you are facing a practicing medicine without a license criminal charge.