After graduating from medical school, things are looking up. You are excited about what comes next. Going into a residency program is the beginning of your new career, something you have worked toward for many years. However, something that often catches new medical residents off guard is the disciplinary actions and allegations they may face.
Professional allegations of misconduct can be demoralizing. It makes you second-guess your work and everything you have prepared for in your career. It can also be embarrassing and cause problems for your continued growth as a physician. Even if an issue is minor, there is still a record per your hospital or medical facility’s policy. You need the opportunity to present your side of the story. To do that, an experienced lawyer may be just the guide you need.
Pennsylvania Disciplinary Board
Disciplinary actions should not be taken lightly. They are formal proceedings THAT should provide you the opportunity to hear the allegations against you and present your case. These proceedings are often overseen by a medical panel composed of colleagues at your facility.
Most disciplinary actions arise out of a resident physician’s alleged violation of one of the core competencies of medical care:
- Patient care
- Medical knowledge
- Practice based learning and improvement
- Systems-based practice
- Interpersonal skills and communication
As you can see, some of these core competencies are broad. Professionalism being the most vague, it could be used as a catch-all for any allegations against you. What you need to do when faced with any allegation is to build your case by getting letters of support from nurses and other medical professionals at your facility. You can get statements from co-residents and attending physicians. Having this documentation will help you support your claim that disciplinary action is not required.
However, this can be intimidating. You have just spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to get a degree, and in your first mile after graduation, you face allegations that could derail your career and all the hard work and money you have spent to get there. Therefore, it is vital that you speak with a lawyer to help you gather the evidence necessary to help substantiate your claim and mount a powerful defense.
Educational Disciplinary Board Actions
Besides the policies of your hospital or medical facility, a resident may also face disciplinary action under the school’s policy. Because residents are in an educational program, you may be subject to the code of conduct of the school or educational facility.
- Administrative notice. An administrative notice is the least serious action you could face as a resident physician. Administrative notices may be included in your file, though that may be at the discretion of the department chair.
- Verbal warning. Verbal warnings occur when a resident physician makes a minor infraction. This disciplinary action is intended to let you know that you have done something wrong and give you the opportunity to speak. A verbal warning will likely be included in your file.
- Written reprimand. Written reprimands often occur if a verbal warning has proved insufficient. Written reprimands often include steps on how to correct behavior and will be a part of your permanent record.
- Probation. Escalating matters further, probation is a serious disciplinary action. Used when a resident physician commits ongoing or repeated violations, probation not only restricts your ability to work and learn, but also will be a part of your permanent record.
- Suspension. Beyond probation, suspension is normally used for repeated offenses or performance issues. Probation is usually a precursor to termination and will most definitely become part of your permanent record.
- Termination. The most serious offenses, or repeated and escalated offenses, will result in termination. You do have a right to appeal your termination, which will also be a part of your permanent record and follow you wherever you go.
Items to Keep in Mind
Whether you have been accused of a minor infraction or serious medical misconduct, there are certain things you should keep in mind. Knowing what comes next in your disciplinary process is important, so follow these steps to give yourself the best chance of a positive outcome.
- Note that your conversations may not be confidential. When you speak with colleagues, your attending physician, or even a program director, your conversations with these people may not be confidential. You may want to speak openly with them, and you may want to get their advice. However, you need to be careful about what you say to these people. Even if you both agree the conversations are confidential, that does not hold to a legal standard of confidentiality, as you would have with your lawyer.
- Gather evidence. Before filing your response, you will need to gather evidence to support your position. This may include statements from colleagues or advisors. It may also include documentation of any remedial actions you have taken. All this documentation should be included in your response to bolster your case.
- File your response on time. Your medical facility must have a policy about disciplinary actions. In that policy will be a period in which you must reply to the allegations against you. In many cases, that deadline will be less than two weeks. If you do not file a response within the period allowed, a disciplinary decision may be made against you without you having a say.
- Keep correspondence. Keep copies of any emails or letters you send or receive. With any letters or emails you send, be sure they are professional business letters. You do not want to come across as emotional, even though this is a very emotional process. You want to convey professionalism and facts at every stage.
What You Can Do
No matter what allegations you face, you must take them all seriously. Your livelihood and career are at stake. Even if the allegations against you seem minor and you simply receive a verbal warning, that could follow you around for the rest of your career, making advancement and transition more difficult.
Medical residency programs are a continuation of your medical education. Combining education with on-the-job learning, you may need to navigate misconduct allegations from both the academic side and the professional side. You must handle this on top of working crazy hours and trying to establish yourself as a valued member of the medical community.
As a medical resident, you are not a legal advocate. You probably have not read every word of your medical facility’s policies and procedures. Although some actions as a physician may be obvious as to what you should and should not do, a medical facility may take seemingly harsh actions for minor offenses. Especially if you have done nothing wrong, it is vital that you get a respected and experienced legal advocate on your side.
Philadelphia Physician Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C., Fight for the Rights of Resident Physicians
When your medical residency is in jeopardy because of threatened disciplinary action, you need to speak with an experienced physician employment lawyer to help you protect your rights, your reputation, and your livelihood. Speak with the Philadelphia physician lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C., today to learn your rights and how we may be able to help you protect them. Contact us online or call us at 215-569-1999 for a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia, we serve clients throughout Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, Northeast Philadelphia, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, and Montgomery County.