Your South Dakota medical license is everything to you. It's not just that you need it to practice medicine in the state, though that is certainly true. As a physician, you literally hold your patients' lives in your hands, and your license is your contract with South Dakota, that you will treat that position as a sacred responsibility. That license serves as verification to your patients and your community that you are fully qualified and committed to promoting public health.
Given its importance, you simply must take any threat to your license seriously. It doesn't matter whether the problem is large—like an allegation of professional misconduct—or small—like questions about your medical school's accreditation. A threat to your license is a threat to your entire career.
What does taking the situation seriously mean?
It means you can't afford to handle it all on your own. South Dakota Board of Medical and Osteopathic Examiners (SDBMOE) rules and procedures are extremely complex and difficult to navigate. Even just applying for a license can be a stressful experience. And SDBMOE policies aren't just a set of suggestions. They are encoded in state law. The good news is those laws give you some important rights, rights you can use to protect yourself. You can't make proper use of those rights, though, if you don't fully understand them. You can't hope to defend yourself from charges if you don't know how the judicial process works. And deciphering the law is never an easy proposition.
That's where the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team comes in. One of your most important rights as a South Dakota physician is the right to counsel. You want to choose the right counsel, though. The attorneys at the Lento Law Firm know state and federal law as it applies to physicians. They're experienced litigators who have helped hundreds of doctors and other medical professionals respond to all types of licensure issues. More important than anything else, though, they're on your side. They take seriously what you do, they recognize how hard you work, and they're committed to making sure you're treated fairly and that you get the very best possible resolution to your case.
The Physician Licensing Process in South Dakota
A license defense is a scary proposition, and we'll get into that. You don't need to be facing a board hearing into your credentials to need help from the Professional License Defense Team at the Lento Law Firm. Just getting those credentials in the first place can be a difficult process. The attorneys at the Lento Law Firm know that process, though, and can help you get through it successfully.
For example, South Dakota requires you to submit several important documents, including the application itself, evidence that you've graduated from an “approved” medical school, and proof that you've “successfully” completed an intern or resident program. Any mistakes or misunderstandings in your record can hurt your chances of obtaining a license.
Documenting your credentials is just one part of the process, though. The board also requires you to be “of good moral character,” and it expects you to prove it. You must provide a full description of your medical background, including information about any disciplinary actions taken against you. You must submit a “Certificate of Moral Character” signed by two Board-licensed physicians. You must undergo a criminal background investigation. Even the smallest blemish on your record can be grounds for refusing you a license.
Finally, you must also take an SDMOE medical examination and earn at least 75 percent.
You can see, then, why it can be so useful to have an attorney from the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team by your side as you go through the application process. They can help you gather and organize your materials; they can review those materials with you and point out potential problems; they can respond on your behalf to any questions that might come up.
Likewise, a Lento Law Firm attorney can be helpful when it comes time to renew your license. South Dakota requires biennial registration, and renewal applications receive just as much scrutiny as initial license applications. Any criminal conviction, for instance, can raise questions as to your fitness to serve as a physician. It doesn't matter how small the conviction or whether or not the offense is directly related to your medical practice. A DUI or a domestic abuse conviction, for instance, calls into question your “good moral character.” Here again, the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team can make sure you're treated fairly throughout the process and help you to explain any blemishes that might show up on your record.
Just What Can Put Your Physician License at Risk?
Applying for and renewing your license can be stressful enough. Responding to an allegation of professional misconduct can be downright scary. And you can be accused by anyone at any time. Your record doesn't matter. The fact that you've always maintained exemplary ethics, obeyed the law, and followed the rules doesn't matter. A single misunderstanding can lead to a complaint. One disgruntled patient's accusation can trigger an investigation. And once the board has opened an investigation, you can never be sure where it might lead.
Of course, the board can't sanction you just because a patient doesn't like the fees you charge. Before any investigation, the board must first decide that a complaint is both actionable and credible. Not all complaints are. Your alleged actions must fit the South Dakota legal definition of “Unprofessional Conduct.” The list of what qualifies as unprofessional conduct, though, is long and includes
- Obtaining a fee by promising to cure an incurable illness
- Violating doctor-patient confidentiality
- False advertising
- Conviction of a felony, a misdemeanor related to the practice of medicine, or any crime that calls your moral character into question
- Drug addiction and alcoholism
- Failing to report unsanitary conditions
- Illegitimate prescriptions
- Fee splitting
- Failure to disclose your credentials
- Failure to comply with state and federal records laws
- Falsifying medical records
- Submitting false credentials to the board
- Illegally obtaining a license or other credentials
- Performing medical procedures the board has determined have no medical value
- All forms of sexual harassment and sexual contact
- Developing a sexual relationship with a patient
- Consistently providing unnecessary medical services
- Any “practice or conduct” that might endanger the health or safety of a patient or the community at large
- Failing to fulfill any federal loan obligation you may have incurred to work in an underserved community
That's a lot of rules.
Of course, you have an important responsibility as a physician to abide by the ethics of your profession. When you chose to become a doctor, you knew that you would be held to high standards and that the expectations of your abilities, your professionalism, and your personal behavior would be enormous. No one is suggesting that you shouldn't be held to those standards.
However, it's entirely possible to wind up in trouble with the SDBMOE without having committed a violation of your ethics, the rules of your profession, or any state or federal law. Honest mistakes happen. Patients, supervisors, and colleagues do sometimes make false allegations. Whatever the situation, you have a right to defend yourself and your record.
In fact, even if you have committed an offense, you have the right to defend yourself and to raise questions about any sanctions the board may propose. We live in a politically charged social climate, and state Boards are often so anxious to convince the public that they're doing their due diligence that they over-penalize physicians, assigning sanctions like license suspension and revocation when a warning might be more appropriate.
The Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team is here to make sure you're treated fairly. Sometimes, that means helping you prove your innocence, but it can also mean negotiating for a fair settlement. No matter what your situation, you can count on the Lento Law Firm to protect your rights and get you the justice you deserve.
The Disciplinary Process in South Dakota
Obviously, no physician wants to face an allegation of misconduct. But again, you cannot tell when someone might accuse you. No one is immune.
An accusation, though, isn't the same as a conviction. You have the right to defend yourself, and South Dakota maintains a clear set of procedures for doing that. As part of these procedures, state law also grants you several important due process rights. For example, you have the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. You have the right to notice of any meetings or proceedings. You have the right to review all evidence in the case. Perhaps the most important of these rights is the right to legal representation. It means that someone from the Lento Law Firm Team can represent you from the moment you're charged until you've exhausted your final appeal.
Here's a basic overview of the process, followed by an in-depth look at each part.
- Cases typically begin with an official complaint.
- The South Dakota Board of Medical and Osteopathic Examiners conducts an investigation into the complaint.
- The Board then holds a hearing into the matter.
- Ultimately, the board determines whether or not you are guilty of an offense and what sanction, if any, to apply.
The fact is, anyone can lodge a complaint against you. Most complaints, though, come from
- Other clinic or hospital staff
In addition, the South Dakota Board conducts regular “inspections” of medical facilities, and complaints can arise out of this process as well. A country clerk report that mentions you in relation to a criminal matter can trigger an investigation as well.
Once the board receives a complaint, it must then determine whether or not an investigation is warranted. Again, not all complaints are subject to Board oversight, and not all of them are credible. This can be an important opportunity to urge the dismissal of the case before the board initiates a full investigation.
Unless the board can show some compelling reason not to, it must provide you with a Notice of the Charges when you are under investigation. This document should contain details about the allegation and can be crucial to building your case.
Generally, investigators begin by asking you to respond in writing to the charges. In addition, you have the right to speak with investigators directly and to give your side of the story. However, you never want to do this without consulting an attorney, and you're always better off if your attorney is with you to help you answer questions.
In addition, investigators collect any physical evidence associated with the case and interview witnesses, such as the Complainant (your accuser), your supervisors, and your colleagues. As part of the process, the board has the power to subpoena witnesses to testify.
Physicians sometimes ask why they need an attorney so early in the process. That's because physicians think like physicians, not like attorneys. You may assume that because you're not guilty of an offense, you don't need to worry that you'll be found guilty of an offense. The Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team attorneys know that you can't count on your innocence to get you through. Investigators are looking for any evidence they can use against you. They will dig into your personal life, they will go over your entire professional career with a fine-tooth comb, and they will put a negative spin on whatever they find.
Attorneys do far more than just represent clients at hearings. A Lento Law Firm attorney can offer important advice from the very moment you are charged. They can help you respond to charges and answer questions; they can make sure Board investigators treat evidence and witness testimony objectively; they can raise objections about the use of tainted or unlawfully obtained evidence. In general, they can monitor what happens and protect your rights.
Once the investigation is complete, the board will initiate a hearing. Of course, the hearing is your best chance formally to make your full case.
Medical board hearings are structured much like criminal court cases. That is, you have the opportunity to make opening and closing statements, to introduce evidence, and to call witnesses to testimony. In addition, you may raise questions about the evidence against you and cross-examine any witnesses for the other side. Crucially, an attorney from the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team can do all of these things for you.
It's important to keep in mind, though, that a board hearing is not a criminal case, and that has important implications for how you structure your defense. For example, the South Dakota Board actually presides over the case and determines whether or not you are guilty of a violation. That's an inherent conflict of interest: the board is both investigating and judging you. In addition, you should know that the legal standard in licensure cases is “preponderance of the evidence.” Board members don't have to find you guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In fact, if they are more than 50 percent convinced of your guilt, they're obligated by “preponderance of the evidence” to find you guilty.
You don't need just any attorney, then. You need one who understands the particular requirements of a licensing board hearing and who has experience representing physicians.
Finally, should the board decide you are guilty of an offense, it then assigns a sanction. In South Dakota, sanctions can include
- A formal reprimand
- Mandated training
- Completion of a treatment program
- Restrictions or conditions on your practice
- License suspension
- License revocation
Again, it is not unusual for state medical boards to issue penalties disproportionate to the offense. Even if you are planning to accept responsibility for misconduct, it's important you have legal representation to help you negotiate a fair sanction.
Why You Need a Lento Law Firm Attorney
By this point, you should have a clear sense of why you need an attorney if you're facing a challenge to your license:
- Your license is too important to risk. Any time you are under investigation for misconduct, you cannot afford to take the situation lightly. You must fight, and you must make sure you have professional help to do it.
- The SDBMOE is not on your side in these cases. While the board may serve your interests under normal circumstances, advocating for legislation and generating positive PR for the healthcare industry, the moment you're charged with an offense, it becomes your adversary. You need someone representing your interests specifically.
- A license defense is an extraordinarily complicated undertaking. It involves fine legal issues and an understanding of judicial procedure. In all likelihood, the board will have its own representation. You should, too.
It's not enough simply to hire an attorney, though. You need the right attorney.
You may be tempted to hire a local or family attorney. Usually, these lawyers have offices right down the street. They may know you. It can feel like a good fit. It's not. Local attorneys haven't studied the law as it applies to licenses. They aren't familiar with the licensing system. They don't always appreciate what's at stake.
The Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team was built to represent clients in the healthcare industry. The Firm's attorneys have helped hundreds of physicians to protect their licenses. They know the law, and they're familiar with the system. They understand the challenges of a Board investigation and hearing: the fact that the investigation itself can damage your reputation, that a hearing isn't the same as a court case, and that members may be motivated by political concerns. They can protect your rights in ways a local attorney just can't.
Other Physicians License Concerns
Most licensure cases involve obtaining, maintaining, or protecting your license, but not all. Other types of problems do come up for medical professionals. The Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team knows how to handle these as well.
For instance, South Dakota participates in the national interstate license program. If you're coming from another state or looking to move away from South Dakota, Lento Law Firm attorneys can advise you about how the process works and what additional credentials you might need.
Medical school accreditation issues sometimes arise as well. The board requires physicians in the state to graduate from an “approved” medical school, and the board itself decides whether a particular school meets its accreditation standards. Should it decide to rescind your school's credentials, it can then raise questions about whether or not you are qualified to practice medicine in the state. These cases are less about proving your innocence than about negotiating a fair settlement that will allow you to continue your practice. Lento Law Firm attorneys aren't just litigators. They are practiced in helping both sides of an issue reach a consensus.
Of course, there are many legal issues relevant to doctors beyond licensing. The Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team stays up-to-date on how healthcare law changes and evolves. They keep up with technological innovations, such as AI. Likewise, they are well-versed in current political debates over issues such as abortion and marijuana legalization. They monitor the makeup of the South Dakota Board and how different members tend to vote.
The bottom line is that the attorneys at the Lento Law Firm know the South Dakota medical board system and can help you to navigate it successfully, no matter what situation you might be facing.
What Can the Lento Law Firm Do for You?
Your medical license means everything to you. It gives you the right to practice your profession. It certifies that you are qualified and experienced. It lets patients know that you can be trusted. If that license is being threatened in any way, you can't afford to take chances. You absolutely must do everything you can to defend yourself, and that starts with hiring the best legal representation you can.
The Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team understands your situation. They've helped hundreds of doctors and other healthcare professionals handle similar situations. They know the law. They've studied it, and they keep up with how it continues to grow and evolve. And they know the licensing system in South Dakota.
If your license is under threat, don't wait to see what might happen. Begin building your defense now.