My personal medical board investigation case is still ongoing – 862 days and counting. They say that the average length of a medical board investigation is less than a year but from my research it’s closer to 3-5 years.
Imagine if the medical boards were actually honest and wrote “average medical board investigation = 4.1 years.” It wouldn’t look good. They probably count the time from the beginning of the investigation to the time when the physician is punished. But that’s not the real length of a medical board investigation.
The medical board investigation process doesn’t end once you’ve reached a settlement with the medical board. For many of us, that’s when a lot of it begins.
The Medical Board Investigation
Regardless of how your case landed before your state’s medical board, it’s first reviewed and then assigned to a specific investigator. This person will then contact you and set the investigation process in motion.
It’s 2019 and many medical board investigations will still be done by snail mail. What’s your address on file? Many doctors move or use a work address because we don’t want our patients to know where we live.
Most medical boards will send 3 letters, 30 days apart, before stamping that “physician did not reply to inquiries”, when in fact you never got a chance to reply. So there goes 3 months.
In other cases the investigator will just show up at your work, confiscate your laptop and cell phone, or just start grilling you. If you don’t know how to handle such situations, oh man, are you ever fucked.
Next, you’ll hire a lawyer. And you’ll have correspondence going back forth between the lawyer and the medical board. That’ll take a couple of months.
If you need a medical board hearing or need to appear before the medical board, it’ll take another few months to arrange that.
A lot of medical board investigations end in settlements. That’s where you and the medical board come to a mutual agreement. Well, you basically sign whatever they put in front of you, with a little wiggle room to change some of the wording.
The settlement takes time to prepare and it has to be presented before the entire medical board for approval. Most medical boards only meet a few times per year. The length of your medical board investigation just got stretched out another 3 months.
Once you sign the settlement (the stipulated order), you now have to go through the process of carrying out all of the stipulations.
The Stipulated Orders
For many doctors they will have to appear in person before the medical board. They will need to take some sort of a course. They will have to pay for a psychiatric evaluation and they might need to do routine piss tests.
Some will be placed on probation or be required to practice under another physician. Others will be forced to comply with routine chart audits.
Length of Probation
Many doctors will be on probation for 5 years, some for 10. A probation in many ways is worse than a medical license suspension. The reason is that you won’t have an “unrestricted” medical license.
My lawyer and I fought hard to avoid a probation. And when I got tricked to appear before a judge in California, I did everything possible to not get a probation.
Every investigated doctor will permanently remain on the radar of the medical boards. They can perform routine chart audits, read what you’re writing online, and talk to your colleagues at work.
You will be told, in no uncertain terms, that a second investigative process will result in much harsher punishment.
Other State Medical Boards
Every physician I’ve consulted with has told me that they thought they would go through one single investigation … with one medical board … and that would be the end of it.
Every state where you are licensed will do their own investigation. They will correspond with you individually. You’ll relive the same trauma/drama over and over with new faces and new lawyers.
It’s similar to getting a speeding ticket in one state and pay the fine and go through a traffic court in every other state in the US.
The overall process will be faster because no other state medical board will bother doing a legitimate investigation. They will regurgitate what another lawyers wrote, what another investigator came up with, plagiarize it into a document, and force you to sign it.
I realize that my statements are a bit harsh and accusatory. But my own experience has left a very bitter taste in my mouth. I have interacted with lawyers and other MD’s who represent my state’s medical board. I’m appalled by the character of some of these individuals.
I hope that by writing about this and highlighting the process we will see improvements in the process. Punish those of us who do something wrong (such as myself), but not for the sake of punishment alone. Support us, help us learn from our mistakes, and let us become better doctors in the process.
All The Other Entities
Now you have a dossier of stipulated orders and fines and suspension and probations. Next, you have to contact all of the following entities and reach a decision as to what to do with them:
- board certifying bodies (ABMS, NBPAS…)
- volunteer groups
- leadership roles you have (Medical director, board member)
- CMS (Medicare, Medicaid)
- health insurance groups (Aetna, Molina…)
- malpractice insurer
- every single website that lists your name
The last item on the list, I have been working on it for the past 12 months. You might think it’s easy but nobody wants to change your information online. And you’re responsible for it.
Reporting it to Employers
Next, now that you have a final decree, you need to contact your employer(s) and figure out what they want to do with you.
They’ll present your case before their compliance committee or HR and decide if they will keep you on.
This process could take 2 weeks or it could take 2 months. And you may be asked to appear before the committee to present your case.
Finding a Job
In order to have an active medical license, you must see patients. But because your medical license is tarnished, nobody will hire you to see patients and even volunteer groups can’t and won’t take on the risk.
So you’re desperately trying to find any warm body to put a stethoscope on while you’re applying to hundreds of jobs. Literally, hundreds. You’re kissing the ass of every physician recruiter out there to find you a gig.
Fortunately, physician recruiters are actually really nice people. In fact, quite intelligent. They work their butts off – who knew.
Your job application doesn’t go through like everyone else’s. Most of the time you won’t even get the courtesy of a reply – such is the fate of being a white coat criminal.
Other times, your application will be held in limbo while some committee is reviewing it. After all, you’re applying to medical offices where it’s either you, the alcoholic physician, or the child molester physician. Bonne chance!
Looking Over Your Shoulder
The stress and fear of imminently losing your job will forever follow you after a medical board investigation. Not only are you under the microscope with the medical boards but your employer, too, will be watching you closely.
You know who else will be watching you closely? Lawyers.
It’s so easy to sue a doctor who already had their medical license suspended by a medical board. What physician with that kind of record would want to take their case before a jury?
Looking over your shoulder is forever. That’s the real answer to the length of a medical board investigation.
Now, I know reading all of this was a bit depressing. But there is hope, a lot of hope.
First, you probably did something wrong to land before the medical board. Even if the punishment didn’t fit the crime, there was a mistake that you can avoid in the future.
Second, not all medical boards are bad. Not all want to punish you for the sake of punishment. But understand that each medical board has to take some sort of action – it’s the only way they can demonstrate due diligence.
#1 You’re Stronger
You are now a seasoned warrior! You’re strong and hardier than before. You know how to protect yourself against a potential run-in with the medical board.
You’ll have talked to a lot of lawyers, taken a few very expensive professionalism courses, and sat in front of many overweight mental health professionals.
You might be jaded at first. But once it’s all over and you’re back on track, you’ll be armed with the kind of knowledge you need to protect yourself and defend yourself.
#2 You Know the Job Market
Unlike your colleagues, you’ve been sending your resume to anyone willing to look at it. You’ve connected with physician recruiters and you’ve figured out what jobs you can land and what jobs are out of the question.
You now know about many more jobs out there. You know about alternative career options and are less afraid of losing your job.
#3 Entrepreneur Excuse
You know who make the best entrepreneurs? Those who have nothing to lose. When nobody will hire you and you have no choice but to open your own private medical practice, suddenly you find the joy in seeing patients again.
You might even look back at this ordeal and be grateful that at least you didn’t kill a patient. Though, I hear that a malpractice case is easier to recover from than a medical board investigation. ?
#4 Time Heals Scars
Even the most ruthless medical boards will leave you alone after some time has passed. The good news is that repeat offenders usually reoffend in under 12 months.
Once you’ve been a good little monkey for a couple of years, most medical boards know that you’re unlikely to cause further trouble.
#5 Time Brings Opportunities
The more time passes from your medical board investigation, the more opportunities will come your way. And hopefully one of them will be a perfect match for you.
Especially the first couple of years, you’ll likely be in and out of gigs. You might be doing locum gigs at different facilities. You’ll be in a position to jump onboard with the right medical group, when that opportunity arises. And it will.
#6 Alternative Careers
If you strongly identify with being a doc, it’s tough to change careers, I get that. For some, the length of their medical board investigation will soften their grip on medicine. That physician connects more with their family and friends and places less emphasis on their career.
#7 Working Abroad
Just because your medical license is tainted in the US, it doesn’t mean that you cannot work abroad.
If you’re up for a little adventure, this might be a great time for a new start. It doesn’t mean that you cannot come back to the US, either. After a few years, you can come back and try your luck again.
#8 A New State Medical License
Not all states are out to destroy their doctors. Some understand that physicians make mistakes. Consider applying to a different state and talk to a representative from their medical board to help you with the process.
They will genuinely let you know if they can offer you an unrestricted, clean license. They might even put you in touch with some connections in the state in order to find a job.
Regardless of the real length of a medical board investigation, eventually your case history will be old news. It will be old enough that new employers will only look at your last couple of jobs.
#10 Get a New Lawyer
Finally, after a few years have passed, even if you had your medical license revoked, it’s possible for you to clean things up enough to regain your license.
It’s hard to deal with such issues logically when you’re knee deep in it. But after your feelings stabilize, consider getting a new lawyer who can look over your case and offer new insight.
There are some things that you might be able to clean up. The medical board committee will likely have changed after a few years. Anyone with a grudge against you or someone racist or sexist may be off of the board by then.
A cleaner record will improve your chances at finding a job.
Other physicians have gotten themselves to a place where they can help out fellow docs. They can be a resource for you to find employment. They can hire you and offer you a clean employment record.