Licensing & Licensing Boards


A license is a credential that permits the holder to practice in a specified field. An occupational license is awarded by a government licensing agency based on predetermined criteria. The criteria may include some combination of degree attainment, certifications, certificates, assessment, apprenticeship programs, and/or work experience. Licenses are time-limited and must be renewed periodically. Similar to certification, a license can be revoked for a violation of a code of ethics (if applicable) or proven incompetence after due process.

A licensing board is a government-regulated agency that sets the standards for the minimum qualifications needed to obtain a license to work or practice in a specific profession. Such professions include medicine, nursing, law, psychiatry, and public education, among others. The board’s purpose is to set the standards for and regulate a profession to ensure the competency of its practitioners.

To obtain a required professional license, practitioners must apply to a licensing board and prove they have the necessary education and experience to qualify for  the license relevant to their field. Typically, a specific type of degree or certification is required, along with a specified amount of supervised experience in the field and successful completion of a standardized exam. Practitioners also must apply for license renewal after a set interval, usually every few years, to ensure they continue to maintain the standards of the profession. Continuing education also is often required.

Each profession that requires a license is governed by its own standards, specific rules, and requirements. In addition, each state has its own licensing board per profession. The laws and guidelines governing a profession within each state may vary based on the standards determined by that state’s licensing board. 

Students attending degree- and credential-granting institutions are not always sure of licensing requirements in their chosen profession or in the state they intend to work. This confusion led the U.S. Department of Education to require all higher education institutions that receive federal financial aid to inform prospective students whether a degree program will qualify them to work in the state where they are located or plan to work after graduation. This went into effect in the summer of 2020. The new rule is intended to prevent students from studying for years to enter professions only to realize upon graduation that they do not meet their state’s requirements for licensure and employment.

Ecosystem Relationship

Licensing boards play a central role in ensuring that learners can work in their desired fields upon graduation. Knowledge of licensure requirements allows workers to seamlessly move from learning to working within the ecosystem.


Physicians’ assistants, also referred to as physician associates, is a field that requires its workers to be licensed. A physician assistant (PA-C) must undergo a 10-year certification process, involving five two-year cycles during which a PA-C logs 100 Continuing Medical Education credits, to become licensed. The PA-C must also submit a certification maintenance fee and pass a recertification exam called the Physician Assistant National Recertifying Exam (PANRE). The state of California, for example, requires an accredited physician assistant degree and proof of passage of the PANRE to be licensed by California’s Physician Assistant Board. 

The American Academy of Physician Associates (AAPA), which is the national association representing physician assistants, helps ensure that its members know the requirements for the state in which they work. AAPA maintains a list of the licensing boards in each state, state laws and regulation, and statutory and regulatory requirements for initial licensure and license renewal (AAPA, n.d.). Similar professional associations in other fields  make their learners and workers aware of licensure requirements per state.

Alternative Terminology

State or national certification


American Academy of Physician Associates. (n.d.). State licensing. 


GoodTherapy. (2018, February 20). Licensing boards. 


McKenzie, L. (2020, July 14). Grappling with professional licensure disclosures. Inside Higher



Medical Licensure Group. (n.d.). State requirements: Requirements for physician assistant



Workcred, CSW, GWIPP (2020). Understanding Certifications


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