If you are a medical practitioner facing a DUI (driving under the influence of alcohol or other substances) conviction, you may be wondering how your medical license will be impacted.
While being found guilty of operating a vehicle while under the influence (in some places called an OWI, or operating while intoxicated) is serious, the ramifications can vary widely depending on where you live and practice, whether it is your first offense (and if not, the time that elapsed between your previous offense), what the circumstances were when you were apprehended, and of course, what the policies are of your state medical board.
The consequences may also come down to the decisions you make and your conduct after receiving the DUI. For example, self-reporting to your state medical board may make it more likely that you will be spared the suspension or revocation of your medical license, but this isn't always the case.
Failing to Follow Medical Board Mandates Can Have Serious Consequences
In some states, your medical board will require that you self-report. One example is Florida. The Florida Board of Medicine requires practitioners to report any criminal activity that you have engaged in after receiving your medical license. It reserves the right to issue one or more sanctions:
- Letter of Guidance
- Restriction of practice
- Continuing education probation
- License suspension
- License revocation
Don't Get Stuck in the Gray Area
Some state medical board policies specifically reference punitive measures that align with what level of offense is committed – for example, a misdemeanor or felony. In a few states, such as Wisconsin, a first-offense operating while intoxicated is treated as a civil rather than a criminal offense (with exceptions, such as whether there was a passenger under the age of 16 in the vehicle). Other states consider it a misdemeanor, while in some if you are caught driving while intoxicated, you may be convicted of a felony. It isn't all black and white, though, because many factors are taken into consideration, like age, blood alcohol content, whether someone was injured, whether there were minors in the car, and so on.
An Exercise in Frustration: Interpreting State Medical Board Policies
State medical boards aren't often clear about exactly what will happen to a licensee after a drunk-driving (or driving while under the influence of another substance, including illegal drugs or even prescription medication) offense, sometimes classifying it under the umbrella of “unprofessional” or “immoral” conduct, whether they specifically mention operating a vehicle or not.
For example, in Pennsylvania, Title 49 Chapter 16 49 Pa. Code § 16.61 states that unprofessional and immoral conduct by a board-regulated practitioner includes “[p]ossessing, using, prescribing for use or distributing a controlled substance or a legend drug in a way other than for an acceptable medical purpose.”
The Iowa Admin. Code r. 653-23.1, Rule 653-23.1 (Grounds for discipline) explains that the state medical board can impose disciplinary sanctions if a licensee is found guilty of substance abuse if it could impair in any way your ability to practice with skill and safety. Again, while driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs may not specifically be called out, there can be room for interpretation around how that offense could impact your ability to practice. It would not be in your favor, for example, to get stopped for impaired driving while on your way to work to practice medicine. This is an obvious example, but not all are. Do not take the chance of trying to decode the often obfuscated language of your state medical board alone.
Not the Time to Play with Fire
If you are worried that your impaired driving conviction could cost you your medical license, it's worth seeking sound legal guidance. An experienced legal team can help you identify and avoid common mistakes that could result in the suspension or revocation of your medical license. An attorney well-versed in this area can help you handle your conviction with discretion and with the best possible outcomes.
It is extremely important if you believe your medical license may be at risk, to take all the right steps according to your specific state and situation, including self-reporting, seeking treatment and support, attending required court hearings, participating in required professionalism or ethics courses, cooperating with the medical board's investigation, and so on.
Ultimately, the core concern of a state medical board, in this case, is patient protection, not protecting and supporting licensees, so keep this in mind. Where alcohol and other drugs are involved, they want to protect individuals from unethical or unsound doctors, and their actions will be consistent with patient protection when determining if your behavior warrants modification, suspension, or revocation of your professional license.
The Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team has successfully represented hundreds of professional licensed holders throughout the United States, and they will fight for you too.