You've walked a long road to become a licensed physical therapist. You've had to go through four years of college, earn a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from an accredited school, pass the grueling National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE), get your professional license, and possibly complete a residency or seek specialized certification. Your professional license is now your most prized possession because your ability to earn a living hinges on it. That's why having it put into jeopardy by an accusation of misconduct can be nothing short of devastating.
If you're facing an investigation or an upcoming hearing with your state licensing board, you may be facing a great deal of uncertainty as to what's ahead for you. The best thing you can do right now to rescue your career is to hire a professional license defense attorney to help you. Joseph D. Lento is an experienced attorney who is licensed in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York to help working professionals facing disciplinary actions on their licenses. Read on to learn more about the license disciplinary process, how you should prepare, and how we can help you.
What Agency Determines Disciplinary Action Against My License When I Am Accused of Wrongdoing?
The state licensing board that issued your license is also responsible for administering any discipline in relation to your professional therapist license. For example, if you are licensed in New Jersey, you answer to the New Jersey State Board of Physical Therapy Examiners; in Pennsylvania, you answer to the State Board of Physical Therapy; and in New York, it's the Physical Therapy division of the Office of the Professions.
What Are the Common Reasons Why Physical Therapists Could Lose Their License?
Every state has its own established standards of conduct for licensed physical therapists, but there are some common violations that typically put a license at risk more than others. The majority of these violations have to do with either violating the public trust or abusing the system. Physical therapists may lose their license over the following common violations:
- Sexual misconduct. Physical therapy involves a lot of touching, so there could be gray areas as to what patients and colleagues view as inappropriate touching. Likewise, forming romantic relationships with patients is highly unethical and usually results in loss of license.
- Substance abuse. Alcohol or drug abuse, even after hours, can jeopardize your license because it casts doubt on your ability to serve patients safely.
- Medication abuses. If your license permits you to prescribe medications, mishandling those medicines or writing inappropriate prescriptions could jeopardize your license.
- Patient abuse. If a patient claims you were abusive in your practices (whether verbally or physically), or if a colleague observes behavior considered abusive, your license could be in trouble.
- Improper record keeping. Sloppy record-keeping can make you look like you're attempting to defraud insurance or patients. It can also harm patients who might get the wrong type of regimen or medication as a result.
How Does the Investigation and Disciplinary Process Look When I Am Accused of Misconduct?
The majority of license investigations start when someone files a complaint to the board. Each state licensing board has its own procedures for investigating and disciplining complaints. However, the general pattern usually goes as follows:
- Investigation. The board will decide if the complaint has merit by conducting a full investigation, which may include asking you to respond to the charges in writing, requesting certain documents, on-site visits by investigators, interviewing witnesses, and so on.
- Consent order. The board will offer to negotiate a consent order with you if it finds sufficient evidence of wrongdoing. This is an agreement between the board and you in which you admit wrongdoing and voluntarily submit to disciplinary action to avoid the expense and embarrassment of a hearing.
- Formal hearing. If you don't agree to a consent order (or are not offered one), the matter goes into a formal hearing where you'll appear and present your defense.
- Final determination and board action. The board will make a final decision as to whether you are guilty or innocent and determine the appropriate sanctions.
- Appeal. If you believe the board has acted inappropriately, unfairly, or against procedure, you have the right to appeal the decision to the appellate court system in your state.
Two things to remember here. First, there are multiple points in this process where the board could decide to drop the complaint for lack of evidence or agree to a lesser penalty. Second, if you attempt to act in your own defense, you could be at the board's mercy. A skilled professional license defense lawyer can help you get a better outcome if your physical therapist license is in jeopardy.
Are There Other Possible Outcomes To Having My License Revoked?
Yes. Lesser penalties might include having your license suspended temporarily, imposing restrictions on certain activities, imposing fines, formal reprimands, etc. If you can convince the board that the evidence is too weak or demonstrate your innocence, they can also dismiss the complaint. Sometimes, they will also entertain the idea of allowing you to go through some sort of treatment program as an alternative to discipline. However, bear in mind that any official disciplinary action could appear on your public record, so your career could suffer damage even if you're allowed to keep your license. Having a good attorney in your corner can reduce the chances of this happening.
I've Just Been Notified of a Complaint Against My Physical Therapist License. What Should I Do First?
Anytime your professional license is called into question, your first and best option is to hire a professional license defense attorney as soon as possible. A good attorney can help in the following ways:
- Evaluate the nature of the complaint and its potential impact on your career.
- Act as your legal representative in all correspondence and interactions with the state licensing board.
- Gather evidence and witnesses to support your defense.
- Negotiate with the board at multiple points for a dismissal or for a more lenient outcome that allows you to keep your license.
- Assisting you in getting your license reinstated if it has been suspended or revoked.
Simply put, you've worked too hard to establish your career to allow it to be jeopardized by an unfair complaint, a simple mistake, or a single lapse in judgment. Being accused of wrongdoing doesn't have to be a death sentence for your career. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has helped many physical therapists and other licensed professionals to resolve complaints with their respective boards so they can keep their licenses intact. To learn more about how we can help, contact the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 today.