What was he thinking, that he could practice without a license and skate around the authorities? READ ON.
In conversation with Dean Benard
Remember “Catch me if you can” the 2002 movie based on the real life story of Frank Abaganale Jr., a young con man who impersonates professionals so he can cash bogus cheques. A quick Google search yields several news stories – botched surgeries, dispensing drugs and sex with patients by unlicensed medical professionals.
To get a better understanding of practicing without a license, we spoke with Dean Benard of Benard + Associates, a person with actual experience in catching unlicensed professionals. A registered nurse, former police officer and licensed private investigator with a law degree and 17 years of experience, Dean is an expert in health investigations.
RSG: What’s your experience? How prevalent is illegal practice?
Dean: This issue has grown since 2000 – now it’s a huge problem. I’ve personally investigated dozens of cases related to illegal practitioners in Ontario and always have at least two or three illegal practice cases in my caseload. When I spoke about this issue recently at a conference in British Columbia, everyone in the room was dealing with illegal practice, and there were approximately 15 different professions represented.
RSG: What risks do practicing without a license pose to the public?
Dean: In the health professions, illegal practitioners are a significant public safety issue. When untrained, they’re not competent to perform potentially dangerous controlled acts, like prescribing drugs or administering a substance by injection. And when trained, they’re operating outside regulatory oversight, likely not staying up to speed on changes in professional practice or being monitored.
In other professions, the risks may be mainly economic affecting people’s investments, property or financial well being.
RSG: Practicing without a license then has the same risks that are inherent in the profession itself from bad practice or unethical conduct, but â€¦ magnified by the fact that the individual is operating outside of the safeguards regulators have put in place to protect the public.
The illegal professional in “Catch me if you can” succeeded in his fraud – as a pilot, a doctor and lawyer – by looking the part and forging credentials, but he did almost no actual professional work. A good actor, he looked the part, spoke with authority and knew just enough professional lingo to get by.
How do people actually do it?
Dean: In cases with inadequate training, people have probably worked around the professionals they emulate. More often we are dealing with situations where people continue practicing after their registrations or licenses have been suspended or revoked.
For example, a chiropractor suspended for non-payment of fees simply continued to practice for several years until the College received a patient complaint. Another health professional resigned his registration when confronted with multiple accusations of sexual abuse and then moved to a small community and continued to practice.
In a nursing case, the person obtained registration in three other jurisdictions under false pretenses after her Ontario registration was revoked. This was discovered six years later when she returned to Ontario and her employer reported her. Then the regulators in other provinces used the Ontario investigation to rescind her registration in their jurisdictions.
RSG: There seems to be a couple of themes here – bold disregard for the need for valid registration and moving from one jurisdiction to another.
How does this issue affect regulators?
Dean: Although Canadian regulators are not required by legislation to deal with these cases, the illegal practice issue fits squarely with a regulator’s mandate to protect the public and their interest in maintaining trust in the profession and the regulatory system. Most regulators feel an ethical obligation to identify, investigate and stop these individuals. They pursue prosecutions under provincial legislation or seek civil remedies such as restraining orders.
Canadian regulators draw their human and financial resources from a system that wasn’t designed to deal with this issue. Obviously illegal practitioners are not paying fees so legitimate members’ fees are covering the costs.
Some U.S. jurisdictions are dealing directly with the issue of illegal practice, like Florida where they’ve established a Bureau of Unlicensed Activity.
RSG: Ideally regulators would prevent people from practicing without a license or catch them quickly before they do much damage.
What are your top recommendations for achieving this?
Dean: Here’s what I recommend:
- Educate the public, members of the profession and employers about the importance of dealing with licensed professionals, and give them tips for identifying illegal practitioners.
- Advise members to safeguard their registration documents as they would a credit card or passport. Forged credentials are often stolen.
- Offer convenient methods for checking credentials for the public, employers and regulators in other jurisdictions, either through a website or hot line.
- Post a list of illegal practitioners who’ve been successfully prosecuted or had civil judgments against them on your website.
- Pursue cases vigorously. Alleged illegal practitioners must be a priority. In most cases, it’s a race against the clock. Prosecutions in Ontario must be started within six months of the alleged acts, and civil remedies also need to be pursued promptly to maximize the likelihood of success.