Becoming an optometrist is almost as strenuous academically as becoming an MD. It requires at least eight years of education, passing national board exams, completing a residency, and becoming a licensed professional in your state. This is a significant amount of money and time to put into a career, and once you're licensed as an optometrist, your entire livelihood hinges on the integrity of that license. That's why it's such a crisis when allegations of wrongdoing result in an investigation by your state's licensing board. A license suspension or revocation could be devastating to your career.
Fortunately, it doesn't have to be that way. Hiring a competent professional license defense attorney can greatly reduce the impact of an investigation and quite possibly save your career. Joseph D. Lento, a highly-experienced attorney, helps professional licensees in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York who are under threat of losing their licenses and those requiring help to address past licensing issues. The Lento Law Firm has compiled critical information for optometrists who have been notified about an investigation into their license.
To Whom Do I Report if My Optometrist License Is Under Review?
The state licensing board that issued your optometrist's license is also responsible for pursuing any disciplinary actions related to that license. For example, if you're licensed in New Jersey, you'll answer to the New Jersey State Board of Optometrists. If in Pennsylvania, it's the State Board of Optometry. And if you're licensed in New York, you're accountable to the Optometry Division of the Office of the Professions.
What Does the Investigation and Disciplinary Process Look Like When I'm Accused of Misconduct?
Most license investigations begin when someone files a complaint with the board. Every state licensing board has its own protocols for pursuing and disciplining complaints, but generally, it looks something like the following:
- Investigation. The board initiates an investigation to determine whether there is evidence to support the complaint. This may involve asking you to respond in writing, issuing subpoenas for documentation, interviewing witnesses, etc.
- Consent decree. If the board discovers sufficient evidence that wrongdoing was committed, it will likely offer to enter into a consent decree with you in lieu of a formal hearing. The consent decree is an agreement between you, the board, and the state in which you admit wrongdoing and voluntarily submit to disciplinary action.
- Formal hearing. If no consent decree is offered or accepted, you will address the accusations against you in a hearing before either the board or an Administrative Law Judge.
- Board action. The board will make a final determination as to your guilt or innocence and decide on appropriate sanctions or penalties.
The thing to remember is that if you appear before the board on your own behalf, you may be at the mercy of their determination as they weigh the evidence against you. Having a skilled professional license defense attorney can increase your chances for a more favorable outcome.
What Allegations Could Threaten My Optometrist License?
Most misconduct allegations that put an optometrist licensing in jeopardy have to do with some violation of the standards of conduct put forth by the licensing board in your state. Some of the more common reasons for optometrists to lose their license include:
- Gross incompetence and/or negligence. Optometrists who consistently misdiagnose, overprescribe, or otherwise fail to treat their patients properly may be at risk of losing their license.
- Insurance fraud. Examples include overbilling insurance, falsifying patient records, etc.
- Sexual misconduct. Examples include sexual harassment of patients or colleagues, inappropriate relationships with patients, etc.
- Medication violations. Examples include abusing prescription privileges, diverting medications for personal use, “pill mill” practices, etc.
- Substance abuse. Evidence of addiction or coming to work intoxicated can cast doubt on your ability to practice effectively.
- Convictions for a criminal offense. You may be disqualified from becoming an optometrist if you are convicted of certain offenses (e.g., theft, DUI, or drug possession).
Am I Guaranteed to Lose My Optometrist's License if the Board Disciplines Me?
Not necessarily. As an alternative to losing your license, you could be subject to penalties such as suspension of your license (which in some instances can be "stayed", thereby foregoing an actual suspension), restrictions on certain activities, fines, probation, or a formal reprimand. In some instances (for example, in cases of substance abuse), the licensing board may be open to having you go through mandatory treatment as an alternative to discipline. Whatever alternatives are presented, be aware that even the smallest penalties can still have a negative impact on your career because disciplinary actions appear on your public record. If a potential employer, clinic, or patient looks up your record and sees disciplinary marks, it might dissuade them from working with you. In many cases, a professional license defense attorney can help you avert an outcome that negatively affects your professional record.
What Can an Attorney Do To Help Me Keep My Optometrist's License?
Hiring a professional license defense attorney can greatly decrease the chances that a complaint will do damage to your career, implementing strategies ranging from getting the complaint dismissed to negotiating for minimal penalties. An excellent attorney will:
- Help you understand the nature of the complaint and its potential impact to your career
- Gather evidence to discredit the complaint.
- Act as your legal representative in all interactions with the licensing board
- Negotiate at multiple points during the disciplinary process to get the complaint dropped, get certain evidence to be disallowed, or convince the board to agree to lesser sanctions so you can keep your license
- Help you to get your license reinstated (if it has already been suspended or revoked).
Your professional license is your key to being able to gain a livelihood as an optometrist, and a single complaint against you could, unfortunately, jeopardize that livelihood. Too much is at stake for you to leave your professional future to chance. Getting professional legal help is your best option to minimize the damage to your career. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has successfully helped save the careers of many working professionals in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, and beyond. If your optometrist license is in jeopardy, contact attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 today.