When we move from one state to another, typically we must obtain a driver’s license from the state to which we are relocating. For the most part, the process is pro forma, and mainly involves just filling out a few forms, paying a fee, and getting your photo license at a local office of the state department of motor vehicles.

Still, the process can be a hassle in light of all the other challenges of moving. I have moved between states several times in my career, and each time I had to swap one state’s license for another, a thought occurred to me: Wouldn’t it be great if we could get a federal driver’s license that is valid in all states and all that would be required when we move is a change of address?

The process of moving from one state to another is more involved for physicians. Not only do they have to get their new state’s driver’s license (and set up residence, etc.), they have to get that state’s medical license as well, a process that could be much more challenging. It is not uncommon for physicians to relocate from one part of the country to another. So why not give physicians an option of getting a federal medical license?

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Standards of medical competence, that is, clinical knowledge and ability, probably vary little, if at all, from state to state, so why not just establish a national standard of competence, the licensing equivalent of the board-certification examination? Doctors would still be obligated to follow each state’s laws, rules, and regulations governing certain aspects of medical practice, such as prescribing and reporting requirements.

If the U.S. government issued federal medical licenses, it likely would also have to establish federal medical boards to oversee doctors who hold those licenses, and, like state medical boards, administer penalties such as reprimands and license suspensions. Such federal oversight could make it difficult for doctors who get in professional trouble in one state to start practicing in another state, although some physicians (and other people) might not welcome another layer of federal bureaucracy.

Renal & Urology News recently asked readers in an online poll whether they thought there should be a federal medical license, and nearly three-quarters of the 392 respondents indicated “yes.” Although other issues related to healthcare are more pressing right now, perhaps federal medical licenses are worth considering at some point.