You have invested years of time and money to become a licensed Emergency Medical Technician (EMT)—and even longer if you're a licensed paramedic. Your professional license gives you the right to make a living helping people with emergency medical services, and that license is the key to your income. But what happens when a misstep, mistake, or misunderstanding puts that license in jeopardy?
This happens more often than you think. As a licensed EMT or paramedic, you're part of the licensed medical community, and the state views it as a public trust. If the licensing or certification board believes you have violated that trust, it could result in the suspension or revocation of your professional license—erasing both your income and years of hard work. Mistakes made while treating patients, allegations of professional misconduct, even actions you take while off duty—any of these could result in disciplinary action that puts your EMT or paramedic license at risk. What can you do in such cases to protect your career?
If you've recently come under investigation for alleged misconduct and your EMT/paramedic license is in jeopardy, you may be feeling a lot of concern and fear, your mind filled with questions. Joseph D. Lento has years of experience in successful license defense in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York. The Lento Law Firm has compiled the following information so you can be fully informed of what is at stake with your license and what you can expect.
What are the most common issues that can jeopardize your EMT or paramedic license?
Paramedics and EMTs can have their professional licenses suspended or revoked over a number of different complaints and alleged violations. Below are some of the most common:
- DUI/DWI. Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is one of the most common reasons for EMS license discipline—and it's also one of the most likely offenses to cost you your license, even if it happens when you're not on duty. The reason? EMTs and paramedics drive vehicles that transport patients, so a DUI on your record weakens your trust level significantly.
- Other criminal convictions. Other criminal convictions besides can also disqualify you from holding an EMT/paramedic license—especially felony offenses.
- Substance abuse. Untreated addictions to alcohol or drugs may also jeopardize your license.
- Incompetence. Making serious mistakes while treating a patient can endanger your license, especially if it results in further patient suffering or puts the patient's health in further jeopardy. Examples might include administering wrong medications (or in the wrong dose), failing to ask about allergic reactions to certain drugs, misusing medical equipment, etc.
- Gross negligence. Examples might include failing to follow EMT standard protocols such as checking patient's vitals, heart rate and breathing, leaving a patient at the scene, willfully refusing to administer treatment, or causing additional injury through reckless driving.
- Other professional misconduct. Examples might include being verbally or physically abusive with patients or sexually harassing patients or colleagues.
Are there other disciplinary actions that don't involve losing my license?
Yes. While license suspension or revocation are common penalties for the misconduct of EMT and paramedic personnel, there are numerous instances where the licensing body may invoke an alternative form of punishment. Examples may include:
- License suspension—restricting your ability to work as an EMT or paramedic for a certain length of time.
- Fines. The board may impose a monetary fine.
- Probation. You may be allowed to operate in a more restrictive capacity or under close monitoring for a period of time.
- Mandatory treatment. In situations of alcohol or drug abuse, the licensing board may require you to attend a treatment program as an alternative to revoking your license.
- Verbal or written warning. For seemingly minor offenses, the board may simply issue a reprimand.
Can disciplinary actions hurt my career even if my license is not revoked?
Yes. Even if you are able to avoid losing your EMT or paramedic license, most disciplinary actions by the board will go on your public record, where they can be easily verified by any prospective patient or employer. Depending on the severity of the offense, this could hurt your ability to get hired by an EMS company or to get promotions in the company you currently work for.
If a complaint has been filed against you, the best outcome you can hope for is to have the complaint dismissed so that no negative notations appear on your record. Likewise, verbal warnings rarely appear on one's public record. Hiring a good attorney gives you the best chance for one of these outcomes. Likewise, if disciplinary action is unavoidable, an attorney can negotiate the best terms to sustain the least possible amount of damage to your professional record and reputation.
What does the disciplinary process look like?
Different states have disciplinary protocols for EMTs and paramedics that are unique to the state. In New Jersey, licensing and discipline are administered by the Office of Emergency Medical Services (OEMS); in New York and Pennsylvania, it's the State's Department of Health. Most license discipline processes, however, will follow a similar path as follows:
Most discipline begins with some form of complaint filed with the board, whether from a patient, a colleague, an employer, a healthcare facility, or the board itself.
The board reviews the nature of the complaint primarily to determine whether they have jurisdiction over processing the complaint.
The board launches an investigation into the allegations, which may involve requesting additional information from the complainant, requesting a written response to the complaint from the EMT or paramedic, questioning witnesses, etc.
Consent Decree. If the complaint is proved to have merit during the investigation, or if the evidence against you is significant, the board may offer the opportunity to enter into a Consent Decree—a consensual agreement with the board and the state to submit to a prescribed disciplinary action (often with the ability to retain your license or have it reinstated)—as an alternative to a formal hearing.
If the board believes a violation occurred and cannot resolve it with you by a Consent Decree, it goes to a hearing, which may take place before the board itself or before an Administrative Law Judge.
Board determination and disciplinary action. If after the hearing the board determines you did commit the alleged misconduct, it will decide on disciplinary action, which may range from a verbal warning to complete revocation of your license.
Appeal. You have the right to appeal an adverse decision if you desire, which is typically sent to the appellate court in your state. However, these appeals usually only deal with procedural reviews and rarely overturn the board's decision.
At any point in the disciplinary process, the board may opt to dismiss the complaint or resolve it with a lesser penalty to avoid license revocation. In most cases, an EMT or paramedic can get one of these more desirable outcomes with the help of an experienced professional license defense attorney.
What happens if I don't cooperate with an investigation?
As a licensed EMT or paramedic, you are held accountable and expected to cooperate with any investigation that arises from a complaint against you. If you choose to ignore a complaint or refuse to comply with an investigation, the licensing board is likely to treat it as an admission of guilt and rule summarily against you. Your chances of losing your license will go up considerably. There are many strategies you can employ to save your license, but avoiding the problem is not one of them.
Why do I need an attorney to help defend my EMT/paramedic license?
You obviously have the right to represent yourself and answer to any complaint without the help of an attorney—but in most cases, it's highly inadvisable. Here's why:
- The state licensing agency is not your friend. Their job is not to protect your interests (for example, the way a union does). Their job is to protect the public. If there is an allegation against you, it's considered a threat to the public interest, and the licensing board is essentially looking for a reason to validate the complaint, not protect you from it. That means anything you say or do could be used against you. An attorney's involvement can give you more protection against the board and help protect you from missteps that could make things worse for you.
- The board is more familiar with the disciplinary process than you are. The board has investigated many claims besides yours, and they're more comfortable with the process. This puts you at a disadvantage unless you have an attorney with similar amounts of experience with license discipline.
- License defense is a legal matter. Your license is a legal agreement with the state, which means any complaint or investigation that jeopardizes that license is also a legal matter. For legal proceedings, it's best to have a legal professional representing your interests.
- Your chances of a better outcome go up considerably when you have an attorney. A good license defense lawyer knows how to work and negotiate within the system to help avert the worst-case-scenario in most cases.
Won't hiring an attorney make me look guilty?
Not at all. Again, license defense cases are legal proceedings, so EMT/paramedic licensing boards are fully comfortable interacting with attorneys in disciplinary matters. Hiring an attorney is not interpreted as an admission of guilt. It does, however, let the board know you take the allegations seriously—and that actually works in your favor.
Can't I just resolve a complaint by explaining things to the board? This is all just a misunderstanding.
One of the worst mistakes an EMT, paramedic, or other licensed health professional can make is to approach their state board casually. The board is obligated to take every complaint seriously, and if you assume they are on your side and just try to “explain” things to them, your actions could at best be interpreted as taking the matter too lightly, and at worst, be used against you. Remember—the board is not your friend. Protecting your interests with the help of a legal professional is almost always the best course of action.
Do I need a specific kind of attorney to defend my license?
Anyone who is licensed to practice law in your state can serve as your official legal representative in a license investigation or hearing. However, not every attorney is experienced in the nuances of license defense. Hiring a lawyer strictly on the basis of cost or because of a friend/family referral may not be the best option. Instead, hire an attorney who has specific experience in professional license defense in your state—someone who has argued before state licensing boards with a good track record of success.
How can a professional license attorney help me?
An experienced attorney can greatly improve your chances for a more favorable outcome if your EMT or paramedic license comes under fire. A good attorney can:
- Represent you and speak for you in all interactions with the licensing board
- Gather evidence and witnesses in your defense
- Advise you on what is at stake and your best strategy for responding to the claims
- Argue your case before the licensing board and/or a judge in formal hearings
- Negotiate for dismissal of the complaint or reduced penalties
If an investigator from the licensing board shows up at my home or work, do I have to talk to them or let them look around?
No, you don't—and in fact, we highly advise against it. Any interaction with an investigator can be used against you, and while you're expected to cooperate with the investigation in general, you are not required to incriminate yourself. You have the right to legal counsel in any interaction with the board—including any investigators they send. If you get a visit from an investigator, simply ask for their contact information and inform them that your attorney will get in touch with them.
Will I still be able to go to work while I'm under investigation?
That depends on the board's initial action. If the allegations are severe, the board may opt to issue a temporary emergency suspension of your license, forcing you to stop working immediately until the matter is resolved. As long as that has not happened—and as long as your employer is okay with it—you are legally allowed to continue working until a determination is made to suspend or revoke your license. Your best course of action is to continue going to work as normal unless you are specifically told not to do so.
Do I have to tell my employer or colleagues that I am being Investigated?
In most cases, you are not legally obligated to disclose that you are under investigation. However, your EMS employer may require full disclosure of any investigation as a matter of company policy, and if you fail to abide by those terms, you could risk being terminated. (You should not have to tell colleagues or coworkers in any case.) Be sure to check your company's policies and procedures to make sure you are in compliance with their rules.
I had my EMT or paramedic license revoked. Can a professional license attorney help me get it reinstated?
Yes. Most state licensing boards have provisions to apply for reinstatement of a revoked license after a prescribed period of time. The reinstatement process may include any/all of the following:
- Formally petitioning the board to reinstate/reactivate your license
- Paying any applicable fees
- Submitting a work history of jobs you held while your license was inactive
- Submitting a written explanation for your request for reinstatement
- Fulfilling any pre-conditions set out by the board (e.g., continuing education, treatment programs)
- Agreeing to any other terms of reinstatement as prescribed by the board
When seeking reinstatement of your EMT/paramedic license, a professional license attorney can help by coordinating the filing of your paperwork and fees, following up on reinstatement status with the board, helping you craft a compelling argument for reinstatement, and negotiating the best terms for any prescribed action plan.
How soon should I hire an attorney after being notified of a complaint against my license?
Typically, the sooner, the better. Some paramedics and EMTs make the mistake of waiting until they are summoned to a formal hearing before hiring an attorney. The problem with that logic is that by then, the board already has a case developed against you, putting you at a disadvantage. By hiring a good attorney at the very beginning, you enter the process at a greater advantage because your attorney can be involved even during the investigation stage. In many cases, involving an attorney early on can result in resolving the complaint before it ever reaches the hearing stage.
The Bottom Line…
If you are a licensed EMT or paramedic, any complaint filed against you with the board should be taken seriously. Even seemingly minor issues can cause you to lose your license if they aren't addressed and responded to properly. Getting expert legal help early in the process can save you lots of heartache down the road, possibly even saving your reputation, your income, and your career.
You've come too far and worked too hard to let a single lapse in judgment or misunderstanding put your future in jeopardy. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has helped many licensed professionals by defending their interests before their respective licensing boards—saving many careers in the process. If you are licensed as an EMT or paramedic in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York, and your license comes under fire—don't go it alone. Contact the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 today so we can help you mount a successful defense.