If you practice veterinary medicine, it's very likely your love of animals that led you to invest the time and money to become a licensed vet. That's why it can be so devastating to have your veterinary license called into question by accusations of misconduct, neglect, or abuse. Your career hinges on your license, and having it revoked would mean instantly losing your livelihood.
Facing allegations in front of your licensing board can put you at a great disadvantage, especially if you don't understand the disciplinary process. Hiring a professional license defense attorney may be your best chance at keeping your license to practice intact. Joseph D. Lento has helped numerous veterinarians and other licensed professionals in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York who are facing possible jeopardy with their licenses.
What Are the Most Common Accusations That Put a Veterinary License in Jeopardy?
Your state's licensing board has established standards of conduct for its licensed veterinarians, and most allegations that jeopardize that license have to do with violating those policies. Some of the more common violations that cost vets their licenses include:
- Abusive or negligent practices toward animals. Animals are the vet's patients, and any perceived act of abuse or mistreatment of the patient—or neglecting to provide proper care—can result in loss of license.
- Substance abuse. Alcohol or drug addictions can affect your performance on the job, and the board may deem you unfit for practice.
- Improper record keeping. Sloppy record-keeping can result in medical mistakes with the animals, overbilling customers, etc.
- Criminal convictions. DUI, drug possession, and other criminal convictions can damage public trust and cause the board to re-think your license status.
Can a Malpractice Lawsuit Cost Me My Veterinary License?
Not directly. A customer can sue you in court for negligence or malpractice to recover damages for the loss of a pet, but that's a different area of law. If the customer wishes to have your license revoked, they must file a separate complaint with the state board to prompt an investigation.
Who Do I Answer to When a Complaint Is Filed Against Me?
The state licensing board that first issued your license is responsible for pursuing any complaints against that license, as well as determining what disciplinary action should be administered. If you are licensed in New Jersey, complaints will be handled by the State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners. If in Pennsylvania, it's the State Board of Veterinary Medicine. And if you practice in New York, you'll answer to the Veterinary Medicine division of the Office of the Professions.
What Happens When I Am Accused of Misconduct?
In the vast majority of cases, a veterinarian is officially accused of misconduct when someone files a complaint against them with the state licensing board. From there, the board will follow a set of procedural steps to pursue that complaint. The process generally looks like this:
- Investigation. A full investigation will help the board determine if the complaint is valid. This may include asking for your written response, requesting certain documents, interviewing the complainant and other witnesses, etc.
- Consent order. If the board finds sufficient evidence of wrongdoing, they may attempt to avoid holding a formal hearing by offering you a consent order agreement in which you voluntarily acknowledge wrongdoing and consent to the board's prescribed disciplinary action.
- Formal hearing. Absent a consent order agreement, the board will hold a formal hearing where you will appear and make your defense.
- Final decision and board action. After the hearing, the board makes a determination as to your guilt or innocence of the complaint and decides on appropriate disciplinary actions—up to and including the revocation of your veterinary license.
There are multiple points during the process in which the board may be convinced to dismiss the complaint against you if you can provide legitimate reasons for doing so. They can also agree to more lenient actions while allowing you to keep your license. If your veterinarian license is at risk, a skilled professional license defense attorney can help you achieve a better outcome.
Are There Other Disciplinary Actions That Would Allow Me To Continue Practicing?
Yes, there are. The board, for example, might impose only a temporary license suspension, place restrictions on certain activities, put you on supervised probation, impose fines, or simply issue a reprimand. In certain cases, the board may even entertain alternatives to discipline, such as agreeing to attend a treatment program. However, be advised that even minor disciplinary actions could appear on your public record as a negative notation, which could affect certain employers, clinics, or customers' decisions to work with you. To minimize the impact of a complaint on your license and career, your best bet is to hire an attorney to help you.
How Can a Professional License Attorney Help Me?
Anytime you are notified of a complaint or an investigation into your veterinary license, hiring a good professional license defense attorney gives you the best chance of avoiding the loss of your license. A good attorney can strategize with you as to the best way to respond to the complaint, provide official legal representation of your case before the board, help to gather evidence and witnesses to refute the allegations, negotiate with the board to have the complaint dismissed or agree to a lesser penalty, help you get your license reinstated if it has already been revoked, and even help you file an appeal if you believe the board acted in bad faith toward you.
Being accused of wrongdoing can be frightening and disheartening, but it doesn't have to signal the end of your veterinary career. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has successfully defended many veterinarians other licensed professionals in license complaint issues across New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York. To learn more about how we can help, contact the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 today.