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Licensure means a restricted practice or a restriction on the use of an occupational title, requiring a license. A license created under a "practice act" requires a license before performing a certain activity, such as driving a car on public roads.[1] A license created under a "title act" restricts the use of a given occupational title to licensees, but anyone can perform the activity itself under a less restricted title. For example, in Oregon, anyone can practice counseling, but only licensees can call themselves a "Licensed Professional Counselors."[2]

Licenses are usually justified to regulate an activity whose incompetent execution would be threat to the public, such as surgery. For some occupations and professions, licensing is often granted through a professional body or a licensing board composed of practitioners who oversee the applications for licenses. This often involves accredited training and examinations, but varies a great deal for different activities and in different countries. Practicing without a license may carry civil or criminal penalties or may be perfectly legal.

Occupational licensing is inherently a form of restraint of trade. This can cause conflict with laws forbidding monopolistic practices if the licensing body favors its own licensees in ways that do not clearly protect the public. In the United States, state licensing boards have been successfully prosecuted by the Federal Trade Commission for monopolistic activities.[3]


In the USA and Canada, licensing (the term registration is sometimes used) is usually required by law to work in a particular profession or to obtain a privilege such as to drive a car or truck. Many privileges and professions require a license, generally from the state or provincial government, in order to ensure that the public will not be harmed by the incompetence of the practitioners, and to limit supply to incumbent practitioners and thus increase wages.[4] Actuarys, Architecture, insurance agents, Interior design, Landscape architecture, Engineering, General contractors, Financial analysts, Surveying, hedge fund mangagers, investment bankers, Licensed professional counselors, plumbers, Electricians, Physical Therapists, Real estate brokers, Nutritionists, Speech therapists, Teachers, medical practitioners, nurses, lawyers, Private investigators, psychologists, geologists, social workers, Earth Science, School counselors, stockbrokers, and certified public accountants are some examples of professions that require licensure. Licensure is similar to professional certification, and sometimes synonymous (such as in the case with teacher licensure/certification); however, certification is an employment qualification and not a legal requirement for practicing a profession.

In many cases, an individual must complete certain steps, such as training, acquiring an academic degree in a particular area of study, and/or passing an exam, before becoming eligible to receive their license. There are various resources available to assist professionals with the completion of these steps. Professional associations are often a tremendous resource to individuals looking to obtain a special level of certification or licensure. Upon the successful attainment of a license, individuals append an acronym to their name, such as CPA (Certified Public Accountant) or LPD and PI (Private Detective and Investigator) PE (Professional Engineer). In the United Kingdom, licensing as a form of professional regulation predominated in the centuries before 1900. It has largely given way to memberships of professional bodies. This usually involves registration with a professional body and the granting of grades of "associateship," "membership" or "fellowship" of such a body. Gaining membership of such bodies is usually restricted solely to those who pass additional examinations after university graduation. United Kingdom examples of professional bodies include: MRINA (internationally qualified to practice member of the Royal Institute of Naval Architects), MRIBA Royal Institute of British Architects), MIMechE (Member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers), MICE (Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers), LRCP (licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians), MRCP (member of the Royal College of Physicians), MIET (Member of the Institution of Engineering and Technology).

Historically, in the professionalization process by which trades have transformed themselves into true professions, licensing fast became the method of choice in obtaining the occupational closure required by barring competition from entry to the rites and privileges of a professional group. This was initially the preferred route of regulation whether for physicians, lawyers, the clergy, accountants, bankers, scientists or architects. However, licensing has given way to membership of professional bodies, as a means of excluding competition.[5]

License renewal

In places, licensure may still be a lifelong privilege, but increasingly nowadays, it requires periodic review by peers and renewal. It is very common for license renewal to depend, at least in part, on academia. In the United Kingdom such regular upgrading of skills is often termed continuous professional development, or CPD. In many professions this is fast becoming a standard, mandatory and annual requirement. For example, in the US, educators are subject to state re-certification requirements in order to continue teaching.[6] The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, enacted to improve performance in US schools, has led to an intensification of license requirements for both beginning and experienced educators.[7] In the case of UK medical practitioners, the government has recently proposed that they should all be legally required to produce formal proof, every five years, that they are upgrading their standard of practise.[8] This tightening of the UK medical licensing system has largely been a response to public and government unease about a series of recent and well-publicised cases of alleged medical incompetence, including the Harold Shipman case, the Alder Hey organs scandal[9] and those involving David Southall,[10] Rodney Ledward[11] and Richard Neale.[12] Such cases of medical malpractice in the 1990s are widely considered to have inspired the government to tighten professional control of medical practitioners and monitor the quality of their practice for their entire working life. One qualification for life is no longer deemed sufficient.[13] Consequently, medical licenses can now be withdrawn when evidence of serious malpractice emerges. Currently, though such reviews of CPD are entirely voluntary, some form of professional development is already strongly encouraged within the medical profession.[14]

Restricting entry

People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.

Licensure restricts entry into professional careers in medicine, nursing, law, business, pharmacy, psychology, social work, teaching, engineering, surveying, and architecture. Advocates claim that licensure protects the consumer[citation needed] through the application of professional, educational and/or ethical standards of practice. Economist Milton Friedman opposed this practice, believing that licensure effectively raises professional salary by placing limits on the supply of specific occupations. "It is hard to regard altruistic concern for their customers as the primary motive behind their determined efforts to get legal power to decide who may be a plumber."[15]

Restrictions to employment without licensure can also prevent people with criminal records or severe mental health issues from working in occupations that require public trust.[citation needed] Occupations of or affected by the gambling industry, may be restricted by licensure, such as a racing secretary in horseracing, or people in the boxing, Mixed Martial Arts, and Professional Wrestling industry. People whose occupations put them in physical contact with the public might also be restricted by licensure, including a barber, cosmetologist, or massage therapist. Occupations that bring a person into the home might also be screened through licensure, including a chauffeur, landscape architect, or arborist.

Restricting entry by licensing is arguably a convenient and effective method of maintaining the high standards, high status and elite privileges of a profession[citation needed] as well as acting to eliminate competition from those who provide a cheaper but (allegedly) sub-standard service. Organizations such as the American Medical Association were explicitly set up to restrict the number of practitioners. However, libertarians like Milton Friedman have argued that this process is counterproductive as it seriously restricts the number of active professionals working in society and thus unnecessarily inhibits the working of a free enterprise economy.[16]

See also


  1. Careers in Interior Design. "Stages of Your Career: Licensing & Regulation."
  2. Alternative & Unlicensed Practitioners. "Practicing Your Profession in Oregon Without a License, Legally and Ethically." December 6, 2014
  3. U.S. Supreme Court. "North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners v. Federal Trade Commission." February 25, 2015.
  5. Witz, Anne (1990). "Patriarchy and Professions: The Gendered Politics of Occupational Closure". Sociology. 24 (4): 675–690. doi:10.1177/0038038590024004007.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Doctors facing 'five-year MOTs, BBC News 23 July 2008
  9. Steven Alexander, Alder Hey pathologist ordered removal of children's organs, The Guardian, 17 June 2005
  10. Sue Reid, The doctor who destroyed families: Southall struck off for accusing parents of killing their children, reprinted from The Daily Mail, 4 December 2007
  11. Patients still not protected, BBC News, 1 June 2000
  12. The Richard Neale Scandal, The Clarion, 2006
  13. Jennifer Archer, Why a first degree is not enough for life, Pharmaceutical Journal, 277, October 2006, F14
  14. Guidance on Continuing Professional Development, General Medical Council, UK
  15. Friedman, Milton & Rose, Free to Choose New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1979 ISBN 0-15-133481-1
  16. Milton Friedman, Medical Licensure, Freedom Daily, January 1994

External links