As health care professionals, athletic trainers must meet rigorous standards. Athletic trainers spend years learning the ropes and getting established in their fields. Not only do athletic trainers need higher education degrees, but they also require certification from an athletic training curriculum.
An athletic trainer's career can come to a screeching halt due to an allegation of wrongdoing. Certification boards take disciplinary action against athletic trainers who fail to follow their rules.
If you're a Certified Athletic Trainer, a board investigation can put your entire career in jeopardy. You can no longer operate as an athletic trainer if a disciplinary board revokes or suspends your certification. Even minor disciplinary sanctions can threaten your future and ability to treat patients.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento has years of experience representing athletic trainers whose certification is at risk. The Lento Law Firm has put together answers to some of the most burning questions athletic trainers have when facing disciplinary action from the certification boards.
What are the grounds for sanctions?
Athletic trainers must meet the Board of Certification's requirements to practice in their field. The BOC requires that athletic trainers are capable of performing their duties and meet its standards of professional practice.
The BOC Code of Professional Responsibility states that athletic trainers must:
- Practice in accordance with BOC standards
- Practice in accordance with local, state, and federal rules
- Practice in collaboration and cooperation with others when warranted
- Provide services only when it will benefit an individual
- Not misrepresent their skills, training, credentials, or identity
- Not guarantee the results of any service
- Comply with all BOC exam eligibility requirements and rules
- Take no action that leads to a misdemeanor or felony related to public health or patient care
- Report any suspected or known violation of laws or criminal convictions
- Cooperate with BOC investigations
- Comply with confidentiality
- Not endorse products or services without proper authorization
- Comply with all conditions and requirements of the BOC
What offenses can lead me to lose my certification?
In addition to BOC rules, athletic trainers must also follow local licensure requirements to maintain their certification. In Pennsylvania, trainers must graduate from an approved athletic training education program and hold credentials from the BOC or another approved body.
New York athletic trainers must have accreditation from BOC or NATA, CAAHEP, or CAATE programs. In New Jersey, athletic trainers must complete BOC certification and health-based curricula, such as First Aid and Basic CPR certification.
While every regulatory board is different, many of the rules are the same. A certification board can suspend or revoke licenses for a wide range of violations. Common examples include, but are not limited to:
- Fraud. Misrepresenting certification status, credentials, or other professional qualifications could threaten your certification.
- Sexual Misconduct. Boards prohibit rape, sexual abuse, and other forms of sexual harassment. Examples of sexual misconduct include sex with a patient or unwanted sexual advances towards patients.
- Sale or Distribution of Controlled Substances. Athletic trainers may not possess illegal drugs with the intent to distribute or influence the outcome of an athletic event. An example is the possession of steroids.
- Impaired practitioner. Boards may revoke your certification if drug or alcohol abuse prevents you from safely treating patients.
- Criminal convictions. Some misdemeanor and felony convictions can lead to a loss of certification. You may also face sanctions for failing to report criminal convictions.
- Failure to comply. You can lose your certification for not cooperating during investigations by BOC and other approved bodies. Examples include lying to investigators or failing to respond to requests for information.
- Negligence. Acting without the athlete's best interest in mind can lead to certification issues. For example, if you fail to report or treat an injury.
What are some other penalties I could face?
A rule violation won't always cost you your certification. In many cases, the board will choose to take other disciplinary action. It's important to take any sanction seriously. Many disciplinary actions can still jeopardize your career.
Here are examples of BOC sanctions for rule violations:
- Suspension. The BOC may issue an order stating the grounds for suspension and reinstatement terms. After filing for reinstatement and being denied twice, the board will permanently revoke your certification.
- Denial of eligibility. The BOC can deny applicants who wish to take the certification exam for a specified time.
- Private/public censure. The BOC may issue a private or public written reprimand. The standard sanction is a public censure.
- Probation. Athletic trainers must meet conditions while on probation to keep their certification. An example is completing an annual probation report. Probation can last up to three years.
- Training. The BOC can require athletic trainers to take corrective action and continuing education courses to retain their certification.
How does the disciplinary process for athletic trainers work?
Although the disciplinary process may vary depending on your accreditation program, they generally follow the same process. Here is the basic framework:
- Complaint. A written and signed statement that identifies the alleged misconduct and the facts of the violation. Complaints can come from peers, patients, other health care providers, and others.
- Investigation. The board will provide you with written notification of the allegation before an investigation. During the investigation, they will review the evidence and statements. They may request more information from you during this process. Failure to comply with the investigation can lead to additional sanctions.
- Charge. The board will issue a letter highlighting the formal charges and next steps. The BOC gives you one month to respond if you wish to challenge the allegations.
- Consent agreement. The board may propose a consent agreement to negotiate with you. Signing a consent agreement means you agree to the allegation and proposed sanction. Whether this option is beneficial depends entirely on the facts of your case.
- Hearing. You can request a hearing to dispute the charges. During the hearing, you may offer testimony, statements, witnesses, and evidence supporting your stance. A panel will review the information and come to a decision.
- Determination. Upon completion of the investigation, the board will decide on discipline. The board must generally only invoke sanctions if there is a preponderance of evidence supporting the allegation.
- Appeals. You have the right to appeal decisions made by the hearing panel. It's important to note that you may face an uphill battle in overturning decisions. You must follow appeal timelines and can only use new evidence in extreme circumstances.
What happens if I lose my athletic trainer's certification?
Losing your athletic trainer's certification is detrimental to your career. Without certification, you may not work as an athletic trainer in your state. Losing your certification can lead to an immediate loss of income as well as long-term issues with your career.
You must also stop using the ATC certification mark in marketing materials or business documents. You may no longer represent yourself as a certified athletic trainer to patients. Also, you can no longer serve as a supervisor of students satisfying athletic training requirements for certification.
If the board suspends or revokes your certification, you will likely face damage to your professional reputation. It can be difficult to find a job or patients even after you've reinstated your certification.
Reinstatement can also be a costly endeavor. The BOC requires athletic trainers to petition for reinstatement before returning to practice. You'll have to fill out a reinstatement application, pay fees, and may even need to complete another certification exam.
Even if you apply for reinstatement, there is no guarantee that you will get your certification back. The board can choose to permanently revoke your certification, which prohibits you from representing yourself as a certified athletic trainer.
Can I continue working while I'm under investigation?
In general, you can continue working as an athletic trainer during investigations. A review board can only take disciplinary action once their investigation reveals that it is more likely than not that allegation occurred.
As long as the board does not revoke or suspend your certification, you can continue to operate as a Licensed Athletic Trainer. It's a good idea to check that your certification is in good standing. Your certification may be in jeopardy if you fail to pay fees, comply with continuing education requirements, or meet renewal deadlines.
What do I do if someone asks me about an open investigation?
Many athletic trainers get questions from colleagues and patients about disciplinary investigations. While it may feel tempting to confide in others, you must not divulge too much information about your investigation.
Speaking freely about this subject can hurt your career and even lead to additional issues with your hearing. While you can be truthful about your circumstances, you should refrain from diving into specific details.
How can an attorney help me?
Athletic trainers can represent themselves when facing disciplinary action from the board. While you may feel like you have nothing to hide, speaking on your behalf can prove to be a costly mistake.
The certification board has a vested interest in protecting their reputation. Since misconduct harms the organization's image, the board may treat you unfairly during investigations. The board can use your words or statements against you. They may infringe on your rights and make a biased decision that hurts your career for years to come.
An attorney can protect your rights and ensure that you get a fair shake at a favorable outcome. Since many athletic trainers are unfamiliar with the investigation process, an attorney's expertise can also prove invaluable to your case. They can use their experience to help you prepare for your hearing and create a defense that leads to a favorable outcome.
As an athletic trainer, your certification is your window to a successful career. A disciplinary investigation can cost you your license and your future. By enlisting the services of an experienced attorney, you have the best chance at getting your career back on track.
What do I do if an investigator contacts me?
Once an investigation begins, an investigator will provide you with notification of the allegations. The BOC gives you 15 calendar days to respond to complaints. You can also file a request to extend this period by up to 15 days with sufficient justification for the extension.
Athletic trainers must comply with investigations, or they risk additional sanctions. It's important to tread lightly in conversations with investigators. A single statement could incriminate you and lead to a loss of certification. If you receive a notification, your first step is to contact an experienced attorney. An attorney will review your charges and advise you on how best to communicate with the investigator.
If the investigator believes there is evidence supporting the allegation, they will send you the official charges. The BOC sends a service of charge letter and gives you 30 days to respond to the allegations. Your attorney can help you review the proposed sanctions and decide whether to pursue a hearing.
Do I need an attorney for minor sanctions?
It's in your best interest to treat minor violations with the same level of urgency as serious infractions. Even seemingly minor violations can have a significant impact on your future. The board may also choose to suspend or revoke your certification for seemingly minors violations.
Even if you don't face a certification suspension or revocation, you should still defend yourself. Any disciplinary action taken by the board is public record. A public sanction may be a red flag for patients and employers. As such, you should take every measure possible to dismiss or reduce your charges.
An attorney gives you the best chance at avoiding a black mark on your record. With your reputation at stake, we advise hiring a professional license attorney when facing disciplinary action. In many cases, the attorney's experience will increase your chances of a favorable outcome.
Should I sign a consent agreement?
A consent agreement is a formal agreement between parties that settles the dispute. By signing a consent agreement, you admit to the charges and proposed sanctions. The BOC requires all consent agreements to include the following items:
- The alleged act or practice
- The standards or codes violated
- A statement that the respondent does not contest the allegations
- The proposed action
- The respondent's consent to the proposed action
- The respondent's waiver of their rights to appeal or challenge the agreement
Since a consent agreement is legally binding, you should speak with your attorney before signing it. In some cases, a consent agreement can be a viable option. You may want to pursue this option if the consent agreement states that you can reinstate your license.
By signing the agreement, you do lose some rights. The agreement also appears on your public record. Your attorney will guide you on the best course of action at this stage.
What kind of attorney should I hire?
While you have many choices for an attorney, your best option is to choose an attorney with administrative law experience. Like other types of law, administrative law requires specialization.
Administrative law attorneys have the expertise and knowledge to challenge certification boards. They have unique insights into how boards operate and can help you challenge accusations. Experienced attorneys also have the skills to negotiate with board members and reach a favorable outcome. While you may feel tempted to choose a lawyer based on their rates or referrals, an administrative law attorney gives you the best opportunity for success.
Why can't I talk to the board on my own?
We do not recommend speaking to the board without an experienced attorney present. It might seem like explaining yourself to the board will help resolve the situation quickly — especially if you feel like the violation was a misunderstanding. However, speaking to the board without an attorney might prove detrimental to your case.
Board members look to protect the interests of patients, not the interests of athletic trainers. You must assume that the board will use any information you give them against you. By speaking off the cuff or with limited preparation, the board may also think you are trivializing the situation. It will not help resolve the allegation. In many cases, it will make matters worse. You should only speak with board members after you've consulted an attorney.
Does hiring an attorney make me look guilty?
Many athletic trainers are reluctant to use attorneys in disciplinary cases because they feel it makes them appear guilty. In reality, certification boards expect athletic trainers to use resources to help them. Utilizing a lawyer does not convey guilt. It shows that you are taking the situation seriously.
Certification boards do not determine guilt based on the resources you use. They can only find you guilty if there is a preponderance of evidence demonstrating that this is true. Hiring an attorney can only benefit you during investigations.
Can an attorney help me get my certification reinstated?
Absolutely. Many athletic trainers turn to administrative law attorneys to help them navigate the complexities of reinstatement. Depending on the accreditation program, the process for getting your certification reinstated has different requirements. In general, reinstatement involves similar steps, including:
- Filling out a reinstatement application
- Paying fees
- Retaking the certification exam
- Writing a reinstatement petition
- Fulfilling disciplinary sanctions
You must meet all of the reinstatement requirements and deadlines. An administrative law attorney can facilitate reinstatement and ensure you file all paperwork, pay all fees, and reinstate your certification as soon as possible.
What happens to my clients if I lose my certification?
You must have a contingency plan for your clients if you face a certification suspension or revocation. If your attorney indicates that you may lose your certification, your best bet is to create a referral system with trusted colleagues.
Consider speaking with other athletic trainers in your field. Let them know that there is a possibility you may lose your certification. If they are willing to take new business, you can refer your clients to them while your certification is invalid.
You don't need to speak with your clients about certification issues until after the board makes a decision. Once you lose your certification, you should contact clients and send them referral information.
You don't want to leave your clients high and dry. By creating a referral system, you can ensure they receive quality care in your absence. Despite the potential burdens involved to your clients, something good that can come of a bad situation is that your efforts in this regard can build trust and loyalty with your clients. It lets them know that you care about their well-being and not just their business. Setting up a referral system can pay off once the board reinstates your certification.
If I received a complaint or investigation notice, when should I contact an attorney?
The sooner you contact an attorney, the greater the chance the board reduces or dismisses your charges. Many personal trainers fail to seek help after receiving a complaint or notice of investigation. Waiting too long to consult an attorney can leave you with limited options for success.
By contacting an attorney as soon as possible, you will have ample time to prepare for your hearing. Your attorney can create a defense and help you avoid pitfalls when communicating to the board. The moments following a complaint can make or break your case. Don't wait to contact an attorney until it's too late.
A formal board complaint or investigation can throw your future as an athletic trainer in question. Your career hinges on your ability to retain certification and avoid sanctions. With such high stakes, you need to use all the resources at your disposal to fight back against the charges. Hiring a professional license attorney will help you get your career back on track.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento is experienced in matters of athletic trainer certification defense. He has assisted many athletic trainers in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York in dealing with complaints that jeopardize their future. He has the experience to take on the board and challenge accusations on your behalf. Contact attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm today at (888) 535-3686 to schedule a consultation.