Unlicensed practice

The practice of medicine is a designated health profession under the Health Professions Act. Only physicians and surgeons who are licensed and registered with the College (registrants) are authorized to practise medicine in BC.

Make sure your health professional is regulated, licensed and accountable

People who are not registered or licensed with the College could put your health and safety at risk.

Unlicensed practictioners are not bound by the same high standards

Unlicensed practitioners are not registered and licensed with the College. They do not have the required skills, knowledge and qualifications to practise medicine in BC. They are not regulated and are not bound by the same high standards as College registrants.

They engage in the unlawful practice of medicine and may:

  • provide incorrect or incomplete advice about the benefits and risks of a certain treatment, which means that the client is unable to give informed consent
  • not follow appropriate protocols for sterilization and infection control, subjecting their clients to an increased risk of infection and blood-borne diseases
  • perform procedures that may result in the destruction of skin tissue, which would ordinarily be sent to a laboratory for analysis of possible disease requiring medical treatment
  • use drugs or other substances without understanding all their properties and contraindications
  • use drugs or other substances for improper purposes, or in inappropriate quantities, which could expose clients to the risk of serious harm or death
  • perform procedures, use devices or administer substances that may not be authentic or approved for use in Canada
  • use imitations or counterfeit substances of unknown origins—unlicensed practitioners are often not able to obtain prescription substances such as botulinum toxin (Botox) and hyaluronic acid (dermal fillers)

Unlicensed practitioners are also not insured. Clients would have difficulty seeking recourse in cases where such practitioners cause injury due to negligence. You could be left without compensation for injuries, medical bills or lost wages.

Procedures commonly performed by unlicensed practitioners

These services may not be provided by people who are not registered or licensed with a regulatory body governed by the Health Professions Act and eligible under their scope of practice, even if they are offered without expectation of payment:

  • minor surgical procedures (e.g. thread lifts)
  • invasive cosmetic procedures (e.g. eyelid surgery)
  • mole removal
  • chelation therapy
  • injection of botulinum toxin A (Botox)
  • injection of hyaluronic acid (dermal fillers)
  • injection of local anesthetic or other substances dispensed by pharmacies
  • diagnostic services such as MRIs, ultrasounds and X-rays

What the College can do to protect the public from an unlicensed practitioner

The College’s approach may vary depending on the circumstances, including:

  • the availability of evidence of unlicensed practice
  • the degree of potential harm to members of the public
  • whether the College has previously corresponded with the individual on the issue of unlicensed practice
Cease and desist  

The College will contact the unlicensed practitioner and provide them with information outlining the College’s mandate, a description of the way in which they are contravening the legislation, and required changes in order to remedy the College’s concerns. These concerns may involve

  • providing services that fall under the practice of medicine, and/or
  • using titles which are reserved for College registrants, particularly in a way that may mislead members of the public into thinking they are licensed to practise medicine.
Undertaking  

The College can require the unlicensed practitioner to sign a legally binding document called an undertaking to agree not to engage in the practice of medicine and/or use titles reserved for licensed physicians and surgeons registered with the College.

Search and seizure  

The College can apply to the Supreme Court for an order that allows a College representative to

  • search the property of the suspected unlicensed practitioner, and
  • seize records, assets and other items for further investigation.
Permanent injunction

The College can apply to the Supreme Court for an injunction to restrain a person from practising medicine or posing as a College registrant.

What the College cannot do

On its own, the College does not have the authority to actively or immediately prevent an unlicensed practitioner from practising medicine unlawfully. With adequate evidence, the College is able to enforce its mandate via the courts.

We cannot do the following:

  • direct or influence the payment of financial compensation on a client’s behalf
  • order an unlicensed practitioner to compensate clients for damages
  • compensate injured clients on behalf of unlicensed practitioners

People who have been injured by an unlicensed practitioner may wish to seek recourse from the unlicensed practitioner through civil litigation.

While the College is unable to submit a complaint to the police on a client’s behalf where illegal activities are suspected, we may report the matter to the police for further action when required.

How to make sure you are seeing a licensed health practitioner

Here are some ways to make sure someone offering medical services or claiming to be a physician or surgeon are licensed and registered with the College.

Confirm the active licence, though they may be licensed under a slightly different name. If unsure...
Not sure if someone is an unlicensed practitioner? See who the College has taken court action...
Report someone you think may be practising without a licence.