“Scope of Practice” Alert – Authority of the PA Board of Veterinary Medicine Upheld

“Scope of Practice” Alert – Authority of the PA Board of Veterinary Medicine Upheld

As part of our mission to ensure the vitality of the veterinary profession and enhance animal health and welfare, PVMA continues to take appropriate action against those who practice veterinary medicine without a license. Our profession recently saw a significant win in the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, released the final adjudication of Maria McElwee v. Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs, State Board of Veterinary Medicine. The decision reinforces what PVMA has always believed – the Board of Veterinary Medicine has jurisdiction over and can enforce its regulations and rules against licensees of other professional Board. This legal precedent bolsters the work we do on behalf of our Members to identify and report the illegal practice of veterinary medicine.

This decision is the first successful outcome we have had since using the Professional Licensing Bureau’s online complaint system and we will continue to use this as a tool to report such instances on behalf of our Members. Let us know if you are aware of non-veterinarians practicing veterinary medicine by completing our online form. You may also file a complaint directly with the Bureau using their online complaint form. Just let us know if you do this so we can monitor progress with these complaints.

PVMA’s work to protect our profession and our clients is only possible with the support of our Members. Thank you for your membership!

On January 18, 2022, The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania released the final adjudication of Maria McElwee v. Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs, State Board of Veterinary Medicine, argued on November 15, 2021. The majority opinion, authored by Senior Judge Leadbetter, upholds the Pennsylvania Department of State’s findings, concluding that McElwee was engaged in the unlicensed practice of veterinary medicine. McElwee was directed to cease and desist and ordered to pay civil fines, including the cost of investigation.

McElwee appealed to the Commonwealth Court for review of the final order and adjudication. The Court was asked to consider several legal issues. In considering the petition for review, the Court made the following determinations:

  • The Veterinary Board (Board) has jurisdiction over practitioners of animal chiropractic and animal chiropractic is subject to current regulatory authority.
  • The Board has the authority to enforce rules of professional conduct against licensees of other boards.
  • The Board did not violate McElwee’s due process protections.

McElwee, a licensed chiropractor in Pennsylvania who has taken additional courses in animal chiropractic, is not a veterinarian. Therefore, she may not diagnose or treat animals. Furthermore, the Chiropractic Practice Act defines chiropractic as a branch of the healing arts that includes misaligned or displaced vertebrae of the human spine. In short, McElwee was rightly found to be practicing veterinary medicine without a license.

The PA General Assembly included clear statutory language in the Veterinary Practice Act, 49 of the Pennsylvania Code, that specifically provides for regulation of animal chiropractic. In doing so, the Practice Act and the Rules of Veterinary Professional Conduct allow a veterinarian to consult with and seek the assistance of a chiropractor for enhanced treatment of an animal patient only when under the direct supervision of the veterinarian. “Direct veterinary supervision” is defined in the regulations. The veterinarian must give oral or written instructions to the chiropractor and the veterinarian is to be on the premises, easily and quickly available to assist the chiropractor. McElwee, who exclusively treats animals through her practice, Critter Chiropractic, was found to be in violation of the legal requirements of direct veterinary supervision. The Court noted that these laws and regulations provide McElwee the only permissible opportunity to practice on animals in the first place.

The Commonwealth Court, which has jurisdiction over administrative and civil public law, is one of Pennsylvania’s two intermediate appellate courts. McElwee may petition for appeal of this decision to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

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