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Licensed Professionals

Professional licensing laws restrict the authority of nonlicensed personnel to control the work of the licensed professional. The clearest example is aviation. Only the pilot can determine whether it is safe to make a given flight. A company can hire pilots and tell them when and where to fly, but the pilot retains the responsibility for determining if a given flight is safe to make. Physicians have the same responsibilities. Nonphysician personnel cannot direct a physician's actions. If the physician gives in to the hospital's pressure to discharge a patient, the physician will be liable if that patient is injured. (See Chapter 10.)

Nurses, physician assistants, and other physician extenders are licensed professionals, but they have a limited license. The extent to which they may make medical decisions is determined by state law, but they must usually work under the supervision of a physician. The physician's license is unlimited, however, in that physicians may legally perform nursing tasks without violating nurse practice laws. (In contrast, a pilot cannot perform tasks limited to a certified aviation mechanic.) The breadth of the medical license means that physicians can be found vicariously liable for the actions of the other licensed personnel they employ or supervise.

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