Overview of Michigan health professional licensing laws
Occupational licensing most often happens at the state level. It typically requires workers to complete approved educational programs, pass exams and pay fees.
In Michigan, the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) regulates 26 health professions under the Michigan Public Health Code. They include but are not limited to nurses, physicians, physician assistants, dentists, various mental health professional and pharmacists. Individuals who want to work the 26 regulated health professions must receive a Michigan-specific license before they can legally practice and treat patients.
Unfortunately, the licensing process is unnecessarily burdensome and costly, even for highly trained and highly skilled health professionals. Obtaining a license takes several weeks and more often months, depending upon the number of applicants in the pipeline.
This is especially troubling during a health emergency, like the COVID-19 pandemic. Unless a state of emergency is declared, much-needed health professionals located and licensed in other states with less urgent needs are unable to treat Michiganders without first getting a Michigan license.
But these unnecessary barriers are also a problem during nonemergency conditions. Many regions across our state have shortages of primary care, mental health and dental health professionals. These shortages leave those in need without care. Over time, this can lead to unaddressed illnesses, which may have been avoided or mitigated with more choices or more access.
Thankfully, many of the licensing requirements in the health industry are quite uniform between other states, making it easier to recruit those professionals. Professional licenses typically require a person to graduate from an accredited program, pass a national exam, take some amount of continuing education, and often obtain a national certification. Not only does this near uniformity make it easier to recruit already highly trained professionals to our state, but it opens the door to seeing more professionals through telemedicine.
Recommendation: Recognize the licenses of health care professionals who live in other states and have licenses in good standing.
The best way to reduce our shortage in health professionals and better prepare Michigan for any future public health emergencies is to recognize the licenses of health care professionals from other states if they are in good standing. That is, nurses, physicians, dental assistants, mental health professionals, and many other licensed specialists from elsewhere could diagnose and treat Michiganders. They would only need to have an existing license in good standing, been practicing for a few years, and have no ongoing investigations or previous suspensions.
Michigan already recognizes out-of-state licenses during times of disaster or when a professional attends to an ill or injured individual at the scene of an emergency. Michigan policymakers should extend this policy and apply it broadly. Doing so would improve access to more primary care professionals and specialists. Gov. Whitmer’s COVID-19 emergency order made this clear by allowing health professionals who are licensed and in good standing in any state to practice in Michigan without first getting a Michigan-specific license.
State policymakers should make the ideas of the emergency order permanent. Arizona and Pennsylvania both passed legislation to recognize the licenses of health care professionals from other states in 2019. They recognized the opportunity to eliminate costly red tape, attract much-needed workers, and promote new opportunities in their states. A streamlined licensing process for high-quality health care professionals in Michigan would address the shortage of providers during a health crisis and make relocating here or treating patients remotely more seamless.