The Essential Guide to Medical Licenses: DEA, CLIA, CDS


What is a Medical License?

A medical license authorizes you to practice medicine and provide medical care in a particular state in the United States. The license is issued by a specific state licensing board and the statutes vary from state to state.

Certain states have streamlined the licensing process and have agreements in place for physicians who wish to practice in more than one state. For example, 29 states participate in The Interstate Medical Licensure Compact.

In case if you are licensed to practice in New York, you cannot legally practice medicine in any other state. Suppose you have such a limited license and decide to move elsewhere. In that case, you can always apply for another license in the new state. It is essential to consider these factors before obtaining a medical license in a particular state, as obtaining a license can take considerable time and effort.

What is Medical Licensing Services?

The process of applying for and obtaining a medical license is a long and tedious process that varies from state to state. Licensing an individual physician is just the tip of the iceberg. If you are starting your own practice, you will soon learn that different types of licenses are required for different people, services, etc. But we will discuss that later.

Because of the opacity of the licensing process and procedures, and the enormous amount of time spent on these processes, healthcare organizations approach specialized companies to do the legwork for them. The services offered by these specialized companies are considered medical licensing services.

Who Needs a Medical License?

Anyone who wishes to legally practice medicine in the United States must have a medical license before providing medical care. However, physicians are not the only ones who need a medical license. Other medical professionals and certain services require additional licenses. So let’s begin.

The definition of a healing arts licensee varies from state to state. Here are some examples of professions that require a state medical license



Marriage and Family Therapist

Professional Clinical Counselor

Physician Assistant

Nurse Practitioner


Social Worker

The process and procedures for obtaining an individual's state license again vary from state to state, but in short, you will need to:

Submit an updated curriculum vitae (CV).

Provide proof of education, training, and employment history.

Identify current or past licensure

Provide references

Provide proof of health and ability to practice

Judgments/settlements related to Malpractice

Criminal background check

How long does it take to get a medical license?

The time of processing application varies from state to state. Each application takes a significant amount of time due to the large amount of information that must be verified. Therefore, it is important that the information you provide with your initial application is 100% accurate and includes everything that is required.

The American Medical Association states that applicants must wait at least 60 days from submission to licensure. This is only an estimate of the time required. For example, Colorado has a reputation for fast turnaround times, ranging from 30 to 60 days, but do not use this as a basis for applying for licensure.

Also keep in mind that licenses must be renewed every few years, although this varies from state to state. Some states require physicians to have continuing education in their field, and you will need to provide evidence of this when renewing your license.

What is a DEA License?

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) regulates the prescription and distribution of controlled substances in the United States. Examples of controlled substances include amphetamines, narcotics, anabolic steroids, and benzodiazepines.

In order for physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants to provide prescriptions to patients, they must obtain a DEA license in addition to their regular state medical license.

The licensed healthcare practitioner obtains a DEA number, which is then written on the prescription. Before filling a prescription, the pharmacist checks to see if the prescription has a DEA license number on it.

DEA licenses must be renewed every three years and must be renewed if the healthcare provider decides to practice in another state.

What is a CDS License?

A Controlled Dangerous Substance (CDS) license is a state-issued license that allows healthcare providers to distribute certain controlled substances. This license is not the same as a DEA license, and not all states require a CDS license.

For example, in Louisiana, a physician needs both a CDS license and a DEA license to procure, possess, or prescribe controlled substances.

What is a CLIA license?

Diagnostic tests help healthcare professionals detect and monitor certain diseases and conditions. The Clinical Laboratory Improvement Act (CLIA) regulates clinical laboratories. Clinical laboratories must be accredited by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) before performing diagnostic tests. The type of testing performed determines what type of CLIA certification is required.

Practices with in-house laboratory should check their state requirements to determine what type of licensing is required to perform certain types of diagnostic tests.

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