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Licensure refers to the granting of a license (in the US, whilst, elsewhere the term registration is used), usually to work in a particular profession. Many professions require a license from the government (generally the state government) in order to ensure that the public will not be harmed by the incompetence of the practitioners. Doctors, nurses, lawyers, psychologists, and public accountants are some examples of professions that require licensure.
People become licensed through training and/or passing an exam. In many cases, an individual must complete certain steps, such as the completion of an educational degree in a particular area of study, before becoming elligible to attempt licensure. Individuals sometimes advertise their licensed status by appending an acronym to their name: Jane Doe, CPA.
Licensure may be perpetual or may need to be renewed periodically. It is very common for renewal to depend in part or whole upon evidence of continual learning--often termed in the US continuing education or earning continuing education units (CEU).
Licenses are generally offered within jurisdictions which are usually a state or territory. This creates interesting problems. Jurisdictions may have wildly varying requirements for attempting or achieving a license. For some licensees, it is hard or impossible to move their practice to a new jurisdiction and obtain licensure in the new jurisdiction. And there are questions of jurisdiction: If a doctor provides medical advice over the Internet to an individual in another jurisdiction, is she practicing licensed medicine in her jurisdiction or unlicensed medicine in the patient's jurisdiction?
Licensure is similar to professional certification, and sometimes synonymous, but generally, certification is not mandatory to be able to legally practice the profession.
Milton Friedman (1979) notes that licensure is widely used to restrict entry, particularly for occupations like medicine that have many individual practitioners dealing with a large number of individual customers (see for example the American Medical Association). The justification given by advocates for licensure (including lobbyists) is always to protect the consumer on the pretext of professional, educational, and/or ethical standards of practice; however, Friedman believes that the real motivation behind licensure is to forcibly limit the supply of specific kinds of labor in order to raise their wages at the consumer's cost.
In Rhode Island, barbers, cosmetologists, arborists, massage therapists, landscape architects, chauffeurs, and even boxers are licensed.
"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" (Friedman 1979).
Examples of professions requiring licensure
- Clinical psychologist
- Educational psychologist
- Naturopathic medicine
- Music therapy
- Friedman, Milton & Rose (1979). Free to Choose. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. ISBN 0-15-133481-1.
- Licensing Occupations: Ensuring Quality or Restricting Competition by Morris M. Kleiner
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