Between seven-plus years of education, 2000-plus hours of clinical experience, passing the PANCE certification exam, and getting licensed in your state…becoming a physician assistant (PA) requires a huge commitment of time and money. Once you're licensed as a PA that license is the key to your entire livelihood. So, when you get notified by the licensing board that you're under investigation for a complaint and your license might be in jeopardy—it can be nothing short of devastating. What will happen next? What can you expect? How can you prepare? What can you do to keep your career intact?
The good news is that a misconduct allegation does not necessarily spell the end of your career as a physician assistant—especially with a professional license defense attorney in your corner. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has helped many PAs and other licensed professionals in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York whose licenses are under fire by various complaints and accusations. If you've been told that your license is in potential jeopardy, we've compiled the following key information to help you navigate what is ahead.
Who Decides Whether To Take Disciplinary Action Against My Physician Assistant License if I Am Accused?
When you received your license to practice as a physician assistant, the physician assistant licensing board for your state assumed responsibility to ensure you uphold the standards of your profession—and that same board will issue discipline for any violations. If you practice in New Jersey, for example, you'll be accountable to that state's Physician Assistant Advisory Committee; if you're in Pennsylvania, you'll answer to the State Board of Medicine, the same board that licenses physicians and other medical professions in the state. Check your own state for information on PA licensing boards.
What Are Some Common Accusations That Could Put My Physician Assistant License at Risk?
Most complaints that could threaten your physician assistant license have to do with some violation of professional or ethical standards, a breach of public trust, or some other offense that suggests you are unfit to practice. Common examples of offenses that can result in having your license revoked include:
- Unprofessional/unethical conduct. This category ranges from acts of patient abuse and neglect to inappropriate romantic/sexual relationships with patients or colleagues.
- Medication abuses. Examples may include diverting prescription medicines for personal use, inaccurate inventory tracking/record keeping, medical mistakes, errors with prescribing medications, etc.
- Criminal convictions. Certain states will disqualify you from practicing as a PA over certain criminal convictions (e.g., DUI/DWI, fraud, theft, or other crimes that violate public trust).
- Alcohol/drug addiction. Substance abuse may make it difficult to make informed decisions, especially if the person is intoxicated.
- Insurance fraud. Examples include billing insurance for services not rendered, inappropriate “upbilling,” overcharging patients, etc.
- Practicing outside the scope of your license. Engaging in medical practices your license doesn't cover can quickly result in or and practicing outside your license's scope.
- Violations of patient boundaries. These include breaching patient confidentiality, exerting undue influence over a patient, or entering a “dual relationship” with a patient (e.g., business partnership alongside patient relationship in which one relationship could inappropriately influence the other).
How Does the Licensing Board Handle Allegations of Wrongdoing?
Typically, any disciplinary action starts with a complaint filed with your state's licensing board alleging misconduct on your part. From there, each state board has its own protocols for handling discipline, but the process will likely follow a path similar to this one:
- Investigation. To determine if the complaint is valid, the board conducts an investigation. This may involve asking you to respond in writing, document subpoenas, interviews with the complainant and witnesses, on-site visits, etc.
- Consent order. If there is sufficient evidence to support the complaint, the board may offer to resolve the matter informally via a consent order agreement to avoid the expense and hassle of a formal hearing. The consent order is a binding agreement between you and the board in which you voluntarily admit wrongdoing and agree to the recommended penalty.
- Formal hearing. If the matter moves forward without a consent order, you will be summoned to a formal hearing to answer the complaint against you—either directly in front of the board or before an Administrative Law Judge in court.
- Board action. This board will make a final decision as to your guilt or innocence and decide what disciplinary actions to take, including the possibility of revoking your PA license.
It's important to note that this isn't a trial, and the board doesn't necessarily have to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In fact, the board is quite possibly looking for reasons to revoke your license at this point. On the other hand, having a good license defense attorney can greatly reduce the risk of having your license revoked because the attorney will know how to negotiate for dismissal of the complaint or for more lenient sanctions as necessary.
Could the Board Take Other Actions That Allow Me To Keep My License?
Yes. In lieu of revoking your license, they may opt to suspend your license for a time, place certain restrictions on your scope of practice, put you on probation, levy fines, or simply issue a formal censure. However, even if you receive one of these lesser penalties and are allowed to continue practicing, your professional reputation could still be damaged because any disciplinary action appears on your public service record.
Should I Accept a Consent Order if It Is Offered?
It depends on the nature of the offense, the evidence against you, and the terms of the consent order itself. If the evidence is solid, it may be in your best interest to agree to the consent order, especially if it includes conditions for keeping or reinstating your license. If the case against you is weak and your attorney believes he can get the complaint refuted or dismissed, a consent order might not be the best idea because it will still appear as a mark on your record. Always consult a professional license defense attorney before agreeing to a consent order.
How Can a Good Attorney Help Me?
Having a professional license defense attorney representing you can greatly increase your chances of beating the complaint against you, having the complaint dismissed, or receiving more lenient penalties. A good attorney can help you prepare a compelling response to the charges, act as your official legal representative before the board, negotiate for better terms, appeal your case if the board treats you unfairly, and help you get your license reinstated if it has already been revoked.
Regardless of whether the complaint against you is valid, any complaint against you could potentially put your physician assistant license in jeopardy. Don't risk all you've invested in your career by trying to face the complaint alone. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has an excellent track record of helping physician assistants and other medical professionals whose licenses are being challenged by accusations of misconduct or impropriety. If your license is in jeopardy in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, or New York, contact the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 today to discuss your case and your options.