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The veterinarian's role in dealing with unlawful practice (Proceedings)

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Aug 01, 2009

The license to practice veterinary medicine is a privilege that is extended to only those that are qualified by way of formal education and training to competently provide the necessary services. Generally speaking, state and provincial veterinary legislation requires that in order to be granted a license to practice in that jurisdiction the candidate must provide evidence of the completion of a recognized course of study at an accredited veterinary school, successful completion of the National Examining Board examinations and, in some cases, evidence of general good character. Only those that meet the requirements are permitted in law to practice veterinary medicine.

Ethical Requirements

In most jurisdictions there is companion statutory provisions that are intended to ensure that only licensed persons can practice veterinary medicine. First, one will find a provision requiring all persons practicing veterinary medicine to hold a valid license. Second, one will generally also find that it is (a) unlawful to practice without a license and (b) unlawful to assist a non-veterinarian to practice veterinary medicine.

"The Practice of Veterinary Medicine"

The definition of what constitutes the "practice of veterinary medicine" varies from jurisdiction - some have very broad and simple definitions that essentially dictate that it merely includes various procedures such as embryo transfers - others are very comprehensive in defining exactly what constitutes the practice. We will review various manners in which the term is defined. Suffice to say, any person who operates within the definition without being granted a license is engaging in the unlawful conduct of veterinary medicine.

"Assisting a Non-Veterinarian"

The veterinary practitioner must be mindful of the qualifications of the persons to whom he or she refers clients. For instance, in some states the practice of acupuncture may be included in the definition of the practice of veterinary medicine such that the only persons that could perform the procedure would be a licensed veterinarian. To the extent that the veterinarian refers a client to a human acupuncturist, then the practitioner may be exposed to prosecution for assisting a non-veterinarian. Similarly, working with an "equine dentist" in some states could prove problematic. As we continue to witness the growth in complementary and alternative therapies, the prudent practitioner will be mindful of his or her obligations I this regard.

Reporting Inappropriate Conduct

The practitioner must refer to his or her own state legislation to determine whether or not reporting of inappropriate conduct by a non-veterinarian must be reported to the state licensing board; in most cases, such reporting would be mandatory.