Unlawful Practice

Make sure your health professional is regulated, licensed and accountable

The College’s public protection mandate includes ensuring that people who are not registered or licensed with the College do not provide any service or treatment that is considered the “practice of medicine.” 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 (known as College registrants) are authorized to practise medicine in BC. 

Individuals who claim to be College registrants, and/or who offer medical services without being licensed and registered with the College are engaging in unlawful practice. 

The risks of seeing an unlicensed practitioner

Individuals who are not registered and licensed with the College do not have the required skills, knowledge or qualifications to practise medicine in British Columbia. These unlicensed practitioners are not regulated and are therefore not bound by the same high standards as College registrants. Individuals engaged in the unlawful practice of medicine 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; procedures 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, or use drugs or other substances for improper purposes, or in inappropriate quantities, all of which expose clients to the risk of serious harm or death.

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

Types of unlawful practice commonly encountered

These services may not be provided by individuals who are not registered or licensed with the College, even if they are offered without expectation of payment:

  • minor surgical procedures or invasive cosmetic procedures 
  • 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 by unlicensed individuals, such as MRIs, ultrasounds and X-rays

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

Cease and desist

  • The College can effectively communicate with the unlicensed practitioner by providing them with a letter outlining the College’s mandate and demanding that they cease and desist providing services which fall under the scope of the practice of medicine and/or using titles which are reserved for College registrants.  

Undertaking

  • The College can demand that an unlicensed practitioner cease engaging in the unlawful practice of medicine and/or from using reserved titles by having the individual(s) execute an undertaking, which is a legally binding document. 

Search and seizure

  • The College can apply to the Supreme Court for an order that allows a College investigator and/or a contractor to search the property of the suspected unlicensed practitioner, and seize records, assets and other items for further investigation. 
Permanent injunction

What the College cannot do

The College does not have the authority to constrain an unlicensed practitioner to cease and desist unlawful activity without obtaining a court order. Further, the College cannot direct or influence the payment of financial compensation on a client’s behalf when monies have been paid for services, nor can the unlicensed practitioner be ordered by the College to compensate clients for damages.

The College cannot compensate injured clients on behalf of unlicensed practitioners. Clients who have been injured 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, the College may report the matter to the police for further action when required. 

How to report concerns regarding unlawful practice 

Concerns that an individual may be engaged in the unlawful practice of medicine may be brought to the College anonymously by calling 604-733-7758 (toll free 1-800-461-3008), or by filling out the online form in the Contact Us section. Alternatively, a completed Unlawful Practice of Medicine Report or a letter may be forwarded to the College via the following:

  • fax 604-733-3503
  • mail:
    Investigations Department
    College of Physicians and Surgeons of BC
    300–669 Howe Street
    Vancouver BC  V6C 0B4
    Canada

Note: Some medical services, procedures or treatments may be performed by other health-care professionals who are regulated by other colleges under the Health Professions Act, such as dentists, naturopathic physicians, podiatrists and registered nurses. To find out more about what these health professionals are authorized to do, or to obtain contact information for the regulatory organization that governs these professions, visit www.bchealthregulators.ca. If there is doubt about whether an individual is regulated, members of the public should feel free to ask the health professional if s/he is licensed and registered under the Health Professions Act. They may also want to contact the health professional’s regulatory authority to inquire about the proposed treatment or procedure, and determine whether it is appropriate for that health professional to perform the treatment or procedure.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can patients ensure that a physician is licensed to practise medicine in BC?

Patients can use the College's physician directory to verify whether the practitioner is currently registered and licensed in British Columbia. Alternatively, patients can contact the College by phone or email

Who is permitted to practise medicine in BC?

Only individuals who are registered and licensed with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of BC may practise medicine in the province.

Who is eligible to use the title “doctor” and its abbreviations?

Only registrants of the College are permitted by law to use the title “doctor” with some notable exceptions: members of certain other regulated health professions (e.g. dentists, naturopaths, chiropractors), and persons who have the appropriate academic or educational designation (e.g. PhD). The BC Supreme Court has previously held that even persons with medical training and degrees cannot call themselves “doctor” in circumstances where they are expressing or implying that they are registrants of the College. 

Can an esthetician or medical office assistant administer Botox and/or dermal fillers?

No. Only health professionals who are licensed and registered, and eligible under their scope of practice, are authorized to  inject Botox and/or dermal fillers. Estheticians or other non-regulated persons are not authorized to inject medicines such as Botox, regardless of any training or qualifications obtained from a “medical esthetic” institute or academy. See also cosmetic surgery FAQs and the College standard on this topic. 

Can a registered nurse or licensed practical nurse administer Botox and/or dermal fillers?

Yes, under certain circumstances. A registered and licensed physician must first assess the patient and may direct that a nurse or licensed practical nurse perform the injection. The physician must be present in the facility at the time of the injection. 

Can an individual submit a complaint to the College about an unlicensed practitioner anonymously?

Yes. Complaints should be comprehensive and contain sufficient detail to allow the College to conduct an investigation into the allegations. Personal details of the person submitting the complaint are not necessary.