Practicing Medicine Without A License in California

Understanding BP Code 2052

Practicing medicine without a license in California is illegal and can subject an offender to both criminal and civil liability1.

Definition of Unauthorized Practice Of Medicine

If you do not hold a California medical license but represent as a licensed physician, you can be prosecuted under business and profession code 20522.

The unauthorized practice of medicine has both criminal liability and potential civil liability for the defendant.

There is no legal requirement that you injured anyone or exacerbated an existing illness or condition3.

You could have even improved that person’s condition and still be criminally liable.

What Does The Prosecutor Need To Prove For A Conviction?

  • You practice medicine, attempt to practice, or advertise yourself as practicing any system or method of treating disease or affliction, or,
  • If you diagnose, treat, operate on or prescribe medication for any physical or mental condition, or4,
  • You engage in a conspiracy or aid and abet anyone to do any of the aforementioned activities5.

What Are Some Examples of Practicing Medicine Without A License?

  • An immigrant who practiced medicine in another country offers his services to treat illnesses in the US for a fee without possessing an M.D. license.
  • An herbalist advertises that he can cure cancer or other serious diseases.
  • A person with only a nursing degree performs abortions for a fee.
  • A person with no medical license owns a medical clinic6.
  • A licensed doctor who provides treatment in a clinic owned and profited by non-licensed persons (aiding and abetting).
  • A doctor in another state without a California MD license diagnoses and treats a California resident via a website.
  • A medical doctor whose license has been suspended or revoked continues to practice.
  • Employing someone without a medical license to diagnose and treat patients.
  • Practicing in a specialty or area for which you are not trained or while unsupervised by a licensed physician.

Additionally, unlicensed persons cannot perform any of the following peripheral activities that constitute practicing medicine:

  • Determining tests for a particular patient
  • Determining that a patient should be referred to another physician
  • Managing the care and treatment of a patient
  • Dictating how many patients physicians will see in a day
  • Hiring or terminating physicians, nurses or other staff based on medical proficiency

Related: Forging Or Altering A Prescription

Can Non-Doctors Own Medical Clinics?

Only licensed physicians can operate and profit from a medical clinic.

This also pertains to medical marijuana dispensaries if licensed doctors are using their auspices to examine, diagnose and treat patients by recommending certain strains of marijuana7.

What Is Aiding and Abetting?

Since medical clinics can only be owned by medical doctors or those with an M.D. degree.

By profiting from the enterprise, the unlicensed individuals are engaged in the unauthorized practice of medicine.

Doctors who agree to practice in such clinics are aiding and abetting the unlicensed owners to commit the offense and are just as criminally culpable8

Defenses To Unauthorized Practice of Medicine

Your Activities Did Not Rise To The Level of Practicing Medicine

One common defense is that your activities did not rise to the level of practicing medicine such as alternative treatments such as taking certain herbs, massage treatments or others not associated with traditional western medicine.

Are Self Help Groups Practicing Medicine Without A License?

Self-help groups where members suggest remedies or treatments are not engaged in practicing medicine, even if no licensed physician is leading the group.

Penalties for Practicing Medicine Without A License

The violation of Business and Professions Code Section 2052 is a “wobbler” offense, giving the prosecuting attorney the discretion to charge the offender with either a misdemeanor or a felony9.

The decision is based on the facts of each case and if aggravating or mitigating circumstances are present.

For example, if the licensed California doctor was unaware that the owners of a medical clinic were unlicensed, then he might be charged with a misdemeanor.

The owners, however, would more than likely face felony charges.

A misdemeanor carries up to one year in county jail and/or a fine of no more than $100010.

A felony carries county jail time of 16 months, 2, 3 or 4 years and/or a fine up to $10,000.

If a doctor is convicted of either a misdemeanor or felony, there is the matter of professional discipline by the state for any offense that is substantially related to the functions, qualities or duties of a physician can result in professional discipline11.

This can lead to a license suspension or revocation.

Civil Liability For Practicing Medicine Without A License

Anyone that may have been harmed or injured by a person practicing medicine without a license, as a result,t may sue for damages in a civil court of law.

The court will presume the care undertaken was negligent since the caregiver was unlicensed and the plaintiff may have a case for punitive damages in such a situation.

How We Can Help

If you are accused of practicing medicine without a license, immediately contact the Aizman Law Firm to discuss your legal options and defenses.

If you are a doctor, you face possible prison time as well as disciplinary measures that can adversely affect your future. Let us advise and help you to get the charges dismissed, reduced or keep you out of prison.

We can also work with you and the medical board on any disciplinary action being contemplated against you.

If no state prison time was served, we can work with you to have your conviction expunged.

Contact us today at 818-351-9555 for a free confidential consultation to see what we can do to help.

Get Legal Help Now

Request A Free Consultation 818-351-9555 


  1. California Business & Professions Code 2052 []
  2. California Business & Professions Code 2052(a). []
  3. Hageseth v. Superior Court (2007) 150 Cal.App.4th 1399, 1417 []
  4. California Penal Code 2052(a) -Notwithstanding Section 146 , any person who practices or attempts to practice, or who advertises or holds himself or herself out as practicing, any system or mode of treating the sick or afflicted in this state, or who diagnoses, treats, operates for, or prescribes for any ailment, blemish, deformity, disease, disfigurement, disorder, injury, or other physical or mental condition of any person, without having at the time of so doing a valid, unrevoked, or unsuspended certificate as provided in this chapter or without being authorized to perform the act pursuant to a certificate obtained in accordance with some other provision of law is guilty of a public offense, punishable by a fine not exceeding ten thousand dollars ($10,000), by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 of the Penal Code, by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or by both the fine and either imprisonment. []
  5. California Penal Code 2052(b) – Any person who conspires with or aids or abets another to commit any act described in subdivision (a) is guilty of a public offense, subject to the punishment described in that subdivision []
  6. Steinsmith v. Medical Board (2000) 85 Cal.App.4th 458, 466 []
  7. People v. Superior Court (Cardilo) (2013) 218 Cal.App.4th 492 []
  8. California Business & Professions Code 2052(b). See Footnote 2. []
  9. California Business & Professions Code 2052, Footnote 1 []
  10. See Same []
  11. Business & Professions Code 2236 – Division of Medical Quality shall be notified []

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