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Well Sourced: Find the history behind health care professionals

Well Sourced: Find the history behind health care professionals

Picture of William Heisel
When is the last time you pulled the records on a dentist?
When is the last time you pulled licensing records on a dentist?

Doctors who mess up make for great stories. There’s human drama there. Personal weaknesses. The schadenfreude of seeing a once-admired person in a community fall from their perch.

But the truth is that most “health care” as we know it is delivered by people who don’t have an “M.D.” after their name. I wrote on Friday about the medial boards that license physicians. There are a range of other agencies involved in licensing and disciplining the health care professionals who do the bulk of the work in clinics, hospitals, and other health care settings.

SOURCE: Health professional boards

WHAT THEY DO: License and discipline nurses, chiropractors, counselors, dentists, podiatrists, pharmacists, etc.

WHAT THEY DO NOT DO: Actively monitor these professions. Instead, they usually respond to complaints.

RECORDS: Nearly every piece of the health care profession has a licensing board attached to it. Even hearing aid dispensers have their own state licensing branch. (If you do a hard hitting story about hearing aid dispensers, I will buy you a drink at the upcoming Association of Health Care Journalists conference.)

Links to all California boards can be found listed under the Department of Consumer Affairs.

To give you a sense of the breadth of professionals who are regulated, here is a close-to comprehensive list:

Acupuncturist, Audiologist, Audiology Aid, Dental Assistant, Dental Hygienist, Electroneuromyographer, Hearing Aid Dispenser, Licensed Vocational Nurse, Marriage and Family Counselor, Medical Assistant, Midwife, Naturopathic Doctor, Nurse Anesthetist, Nurse Midwife, Nurse Practitioner, Nurse Specialist, Occupational Therapist, Occupational Therapist Assistant, Ophthalmologist, Optician, Optometrist, Oral Surgeon, Orthodontist, Osteopathic Physician, Pet Hospital, Pharmaceutical Distributor or Wholesaler, Pharmacist, Pharmacy, Pharmacy Technician, Physical Therapist, Physical Therapist Assistant, Physician Assistant, Physician Assistant Training Program, Podiatrist, Psychiatric Technician, Psychological Assistant, Psychologist, Public or Mental Health Nurse, Registered Nurse, Registered Veterinary Technician, Respiratory Care Practitioner, School for Guide Dogs, Social Worker, Speech-Language Pathologist, Telephone Medical Advice Service, Veterinarian

Here are a few links where you can find national compilations of boards in other states:



Physical therapists:


DRAWBACKS: These boards are not used to being asked for records because so few reporters pay attention to them. Don’t let them dissuade you. Tell them that the records are public and that you want prompt access to them.

SUGGESTION: All of these health professionals may claim to be more than their degree implies. Dentists may try to do extensive oral surgery without the training. Chiropractors might prescribe drugs. Nursing assistants claim to be full-fledged RNs. Look at the initials people are putting behind their names on business cards, signs outside their doors, websites. Find out what the initials stand for and contact the relevant boards to find out whether they are licensed in that area and whether they have any discipline on their records.

These lesser-known boards are so underfunded, for the most part, that they themselves are ripe for stories. Dentistry, for example, is an area where professionals are almost never disciplined. So if you get calls from someone about a particular dentist or think that some of those ads on the sides of buses for “snow white teeth in 30 seconds” seem fishy, look for lawsuits against the dentist and his practice and then find out why the board hasn’t done anything.

EXAMPLE: Steve Twedt at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported in 2004 about an unlicensed midwife, Judith Wilson, who was implicated in a baby’s death. Twedt wrote:

Wilson is not a certified nurse-midwife and is not licensed to practice midwifery in Pennsylvania, which has raised questions about her training and competency. She told police she'd been a midwife for 13 years, assisting in many births, including eight previous breech births, without problems. She voluntarily stopped assisting births following Isaac Daley's death.

As stories like this show, taking the time to pull up the licensing and certification details on health care professionals can raise bright red flags and clues as to when providers are drawing outside the lines. 

Photo by Conor Lawless via Flickr.


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Fantastic work Bill. As always, but really fantastic. Thank you.


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