How Should I Respond to a Disciplinary Action as a Medical Resident?April 18, 2022
Before you were accepted into medical school, you must have successfully completed a very rigorous undergraduate program and applied to a number of competitive medical school programs. Once accepted, medical school is stressful enough without facing disciplinary action for a less-than-stellar academic performance, professional misconduct, or negligence. Unfortunately, even a minor blemish on your record can threaten your position in the program, or tarnish your reputation as you apply for residencies and beyond. However, it is important to understand that you are entitled to due process and that an academic institution may not terminate you based on decisions that appear arbitrary or capricious.
There are a number of factors that can result in a medical school pursuing disciplinary action against a medical resident, from a poor academic performance, failure to act in a professional manner, to violating rules or engaging in misconduct. Depending on the specific circumstances of the resident’s behavior, the disciplinary action may be based on a single infraction or a number of infractions, including the following.
If you are put on administrative notice, you will be temporarily relieved on clinical duties without pay. Possible reasons for administrative notice include failure to maintain an active medical license, failure to provide a copy of your medical school diploma, or a failure to provide proof of training in basic life support techniques. If the areas of deficiency are not properly addressed within the specified period of time, which is usually no longer than 10 days. this is considered grounds for termination. The program director will determine whether the administrative notice will be included on your permanent academic file.
If your behavior or actions violated the policies, standards or expectations of the program, you may be given a verbal warning by a departmental chair or program director. The warning should be firm and fair, and the faculty member must ensure that you understand the policies, standards, and expectations. A written record of the warning should be included in your academic file, as well as an explanation of the situation that warranted the warning. This will be maintained in your academic file.
Also known as a letter of reprimand, a department chair or program director will issue a written warning if the verbal warning has not resulted in the expected improvements or if the violation warrants action stronger than a verbal warning. This should include details about the actions or behavior that resulted in the warning, as well as the specific improvements that you are expected to make. A copy of the warning will be placed in your academic file.
If you are unable to meet the academic expectations of the program, or you have not complied with the responsibilities of the program, you may be placed on probation by a department chair or program director. They are responsible for doing the following when placing a resident on probation:
- Review all policies and expectations of the program with you.
- Discuss your areas of deficiency.
- Identify improvements that must be made during the probation period.
- Discuss how long the probationary period will last.
- Ensure that you understand the actions that will be taken if you do not meet the improvement expectations within the specified time frame.
The program director, department chair, or the head of the school of medicine can suspend residents for violations that are more serious in nature. Examples include performance issues, a recurring failure to meet program requirements, and violations of policies rules and misconduct. If you facing a suspension, the program director must inform you of the following in writing:
- Actions that lead to your suspension.
- Length of the suspension.
- Residents do not receive a paycheck while on suspension.
- Suspension will not be counted towards the amount of training time required in order to be eligible for the board examination.
- Discuss what you may and may not do while you are suspended.
- Discuss what is expected of you when you return from suspension.
If you are terminated from the program during the position agreement period, you are entitled to a hearing before the Residency Review Committee. It is highly recommended that you consult with a lawyer who can walk you through the process, make sure that you meet all the deadlines, and address all of your questions and concerns.
What Rights Do I Have if I am Facing Disciplinary Action?
If your program director or department chair is pursuing disciplinary action against you, you may feel as though you have nowhere to turn. However, it is important for you to understand that you have rights. For example, if you are part of a labor union, you have Weingarten rights, which protect employees when they meet with their supervisor during an investigatory interview. This is a conversation that involves a supervisor who questions an employee in an effort to obtain information, and the employee believes that the conversation could result in disciplinary action. However, if the purpose of the meeting is to notify you that a decision for disciplinary action has already been made, this would be considered a disciplinary announcement, rather than an investigatory interview. Your Weingarten Rights are only enforced upon request.
Enforcing your Weingarten rights means that you may request union representation during the interview. If the program director denies your request, you may refuse to answer any questions. You may not be disciplined for such a refusal. You may also have a union steward present who will support you during the interview. Even if you refuse to answer questions, you are required to stay in the meeting until the program director ends the interview. Leaving before the interview is terminated may be considered insubordination.
There are certain situations where you will not be allowed to have a union representative present, including the following:
- The purpose of the meeting is to discuss work instructions, training, or discussing corrections that should be made to your work techniques.
- Prior to the interview, you are told that there will be no disciplinary or employment consequences resulting from the interview.
- A decision has been made that disciplinary action will be taken against you, and the purpose of the interview is to inform you of this action. There will be no investigative questioning at this meeting.
What Steps Do I Take After I Have Been Placed on Academic Discipline?
Once the conditions of your academic discipline have been explained to you and you have signed your discipline letter, it is your responsibility to do what you have been instructed to do and provide detailed documentation. In addition, maintain a paper trail that shows how you are improving, including any positive feedback you receive from attendings. You are strongly urged to talk to your attendings about the specific areas where you are trying to improve so that they can help you in these areas and provide constructive feedback. Make sure that this feedback is included in writing in your end-of-rotation evaluations. Be proactive about identifying additional ways to prove that you are completing the requirements noted in your disciplinary letter.
In certain situations, a program director or department chair may find it necessary to extend a disciplinary action or recommend a more serious disciplinary action. It is vital that you keep a detailed, organized, and comprehensive paper trail that clearly demonstrates your progress in a particular area. This is particularly important if you feel that a program director or any other individual who seems to have it out for you or is treating you unfairly. If you feel that you have met the requirements expected of you and you have documentation that clearly demonstrates your progress, do not be afraid to contact the program director. You are also urged to consult with a lawyer who will protect your rights.
Philadelphia Physician Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Represent Medical Residents Facing Disciplinary Action
If you are in a residency program and you are facing disciplinary action, it is in your best interest to contact one of our Philadelphia physician lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. as soon as possible. Call us at 215-569-1999 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia, we serve clients throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania, including Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, Northeast Philadelphia, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, and Montgomery County.