Today’s interesting question is:
I was wondering about the term MEDICAL OFFICER; does that refer to only a doctor or can a first aider be called a medical officer as well?
The regulation of health professionals in Australia is governed by the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law. This law is set out in Schedule 1 to the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law Act 2009 (Qld). In an exercise in cooperative federalism, the other states and territories either copy the Queensland law or simply adopt it as part of the law in their jurisdiction, giving rise to the national registration scheme.
The Health Practitioner Regulation National Law provides for protected titles, that is only registered health professionals can use the title associated with that profession. For medical practitioners the only restricted title is ‘medical practitioner’ (cl 113). (That can be compared to say nursing and midwifery where the restricted titles are ‘nurse, registered nurse, nurse practitioner, enrolled nurse, midwife [and] midwife practitioner’).
It follows that to use the title ‘Medical Officer’ is not a breach of cl 113 of the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law. Clause 116(1), however, goes on to say:
A person who is not a registered health practitioner must not knowingly or recklessly—
(b) take or use a title, name, initial, symbol, word or description that, having regard to the circumstances in which it is taken or used, indicates or could be reasonably understood to indicate—
(i) the person is a health practitioner; or
(ii) the person is authorised or qualified to practise in a health profession …
I don’t know, and can’t imagine, the circumstances in which a first aider would want to use the term ‘medical officer’ but I would suggest that it may well indicate to someone that the person is a ‘medical practitioner’ in which case it would be an offence contrary to cl 116. The maximum penalty for that offence is a fine not exceeding $30 000.
If the title was used in trade or commerce, for example if the first aider was operating an event health service and used the title in the hope that it would encourage potential customers to contract that service, then the relevant consumer protection laws would also apply. The Australian Consumer Law is relevant if the business entity is a company whereas state consumer laws apply to individuals, but again in an example of cooperative federalism, the laws do mirror each other to ensure that consumers are protected regardless of the business structure being used.
The Australian Consumer Law is set out in Schedule 2 to the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth). There are provisions about making misleading statements with respect to the supply of goods and the nature of services. The overarching rule can be summed up by cl 18 that says ‘A person must not, in trade or commerce, engage in conduct that is misleading or deceptive or is likely to mislead or deceive.’ If a person used the term ‘Medical Officer’ in the expectation or hope that someone would be misled as to the nature of the person’s skills or services that they could provide, that would be an offence. Equally it would be an offence if the use of the title, in all the circumstances, was ‘likely to mislead or deceive’ even if the person using the title did not intend or did not realise that people were likely to be misled or deceived.
It is not an offence to use the title ‘medical officer’. It is an offence to use that title if, in all the circumstances, the use of the title might infer that the person using it is a registered health practitioner and the person using the title intends that result (that is they ‘knowingly’ use it in that way) or they realise that it may be understood in that way (ie they use it ‘recklessly’; Health Practitioner Regulation National Lawn cl 116). It is also an offence if the title is used ‘in trade or commerce’ and, in all the circumstances, it does mislead or it might mislead potential customers or patients as to the person’s skills, qualifications or the services that they can offer (Australian Consumer Law cl 18).
A request for civility. If you plan to comment on this post, and you’re welcome to do so, please remember that the question asked does not imply that the person who asked it is a first aider who wants to use the title medical officer. For all we know my correspondent may be aware of someone else who is doing that, or wants to do it and they want to understand the legality of the position. So if you are going to comment, please don’t criticise the person who asked the question.
I will happily provide a scenario where a non-Doctor might use such a term, as I have in a former life.
In the delivery and organisation of event health services for some sporting codes, they had regulatory provisions for Chief Medical Officer and Deputy Chief Medical Officer / Deputy Medical Officer. Whilst the Chief term was often well defined, the Deputy was (at times), lesser so.
I would often be the DCMO/DMO for a range of events from local through international standard, subject to where the event regulations stipulated. Where there was an explicit definition of the DCMO/DMO role having to be a Doctor, then I would substitute with Medical Services Manager and a conversation be had with the regulatory body as to the appropriateness of a non-Doctor performing this role.