When you're a licensed medical professional, the title you use to describe yourself is critical because that's how patients understand what you can do for them. A Nurse Practitioner in California named Sarah Erny recently learned this truth the hard way when the State of California fined her a total of $19,750 for referring to herself as "Dr. Sarah" both on social media and in clinical practice.
In truth, Erny had received a Doctor of Nursing Practice from an out-of-state university, but she was not licensed by the state of California as a physician. Also of interest is the fact that these fines were not actually levied by the California Board of Nursing but by the courts. (California law prohibits anyone except licensed physicians from referring to themselves as "doctor" or "physician" in a medical context, even medical professionals holding doctoral degrees in related areas.)
Interestingly enough, in a statement posted on their website, the San Luis Obispo District Attorney's Office acknowledged that Erny may not have been trying to mislead the public (she does have a doctoral degree, after all) and that she frequently acknowledged to patients that she was a Nurse Practitioner. However, they justified the penalty by stating she "failed to advise the public that she was not a medical doctor and failed to identify her supervising physician."
What is Misrepresentation?
Misrepresentation is defined as making false or misleading statements about one's qualifications for a particular profession. This includes listing incorrect titles (such as calling yourself a "doctor" when you are not), claiming to have specialized training that you do not possess, or taking credit for work performed by another healthcare professional. It also includes failing to adhere to ethical standards that govern the medical profession. Healthcare professionals are held to a higher standard than other occupations because, in many cases, the public trusts them with their lives. That's why it is important to always be truthful and honest about stating your medical credentials and qualifications.
The True Cost of Misrepresenting Credentials
If you're a licensed healthcare professional in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, or New York, it's probably less likely that you would face criminal penalties for misrepresenting your credentials (except, perhaps, in the case of serious fraud). However, the state licensing boards in these states do take it seriously if you misrepresent your credentials, whether intentionally or unintentionally. If you're accused of listing credentials you do not have or failing to disclose your actual qualifications accurately, here's an idea of what it could cost you:
- Fines imposed by the licensing board. Your state board may fine you significantly for even minor infractions.
- Loss of income. In more serious cases, the board may suspend or revoke your license to practice, causing you to be unable to work.
- Loss of reputation. Even for minor penalties imposed by the board, a disciplinary mark can appear on your public record, causing the public to be less likely to trust you.
- Lawsuits. If a patient believes they suffered harm by putting undue weight on your advice, they could sue you for damages.
It cannot be understated: using the wrong title to describe your role in healthcare could have serious repercussions for your career, even if you don't intend to mislead anyone. If you are accused of misrepresenting your healthcare credentials in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, or New York, Attorney Joseph D. Lento has plenty of experience with state licensing boards and can work to minimize the damage to your career. Contact the Lento Law Firm today to learn more.