Genetic counseling is a relatively new and exciting area of health care. Combining an understanding of human genetics and biology with training in mental health care, genetic counselors (GCs) help patients understand their genetic predisposition to certain types of health disorders, and counsel them on potential ways to treat or manage their health issues.
It takes a substantial amount of time and effort to earn a license in genetic counseling. While not all states require genetic counselors to be licensed, more than 35 states presently do, and those that don't are actively considering licensing legislation. Each state that does license genetic counselors has its own licensing requirements, but generally, GC license candidates need to have at least a master's degree in genetic counseling from an accredited program as well as certification from the American Board of Genetic Counseling (ABGC), which is earned only after passing the ABGC's certification exam. Once the license is earned, the GC needs to maintain it by taking approved continuing education courses in the genetic counseling field.
If you are a licensed genetic counselor, you understand how hard you've had to work to earn your certification and license. Between your bachelor's and master's degrees, studying for and taking the ABGC exam, and maintaining your license with continuing education training, you've invested thousands of hours in becoming part of this rapidly-growing field. That's why, if you are notified that a formal complaint has been filed against you with your state licensing body or with the ABGC, it's important that you take it very seriously.
Because losing your license or your certification would mean losing your ability to make a living as a GC, you need the help of an experienced professional license defense attorney if you are facing a disciplinary proceeding as a result of a complaint. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team have years of experience helping healthcare professionals, including licensed counselors, defend their licenses in disciplinary investigations and hearings nationwide.
Issues That May Result in Disciplinary Proceedings
Not all types of disputes between a GC and a client will result in a formal disciplinary proceeding. Everyday personality differences, for example, do not typically rise to the level of behavior that a state licensing board or the ABGC will investigate or discipline. And while each state has its own standards, there are certain types of conduct that are typically addressed in disciplinary proceedings.
- Fraud. Improperly billing clients or insurers for work not performed, or mischaracterizing the work that was done in an effort to increase the GC's payment.
- Sexual misconduct. Entering into a sexual relationship with a present or former client, or of course, committing any type of sexual assault against a client.
- Falsifying credentials. Claiming to have education or certification that the GC does not.
- Criminal convictions. Failing to disclose past or present criminal convictions.
- Treatment beyond the scope of the license. Providing counseling or other forms of treatment services that exceed the scope of that permitted by the GC's license and local law.
- Drug or alcohol abuse. Counseling clients while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
The Disciplinary Process
Each state that licenses GCs has its own set of procedures that apply to disciplinary proceedings. Generally, however, the state disciplinary process will include the following:
- An initial review of the formal complaint to confirm that the state licensing body has jurisdiction over the type of misconduct that is alleged.
- If it appears that the complaint is about conduct that the state licensing body regulates, it will start an investigation of the allegations. This may include document requests, witness interviews, interviews with the GC, and possibly, site visits.
- Following the investigation, the state licensing body will determine whether to close the matter or charge the GC with misconduct violations.
- In many cases, if charges are filed, the state will also propose settlement terms that will include the GC admitting to a certain set of facts and accepting a particular type of punishment. There may also be an opportunity for the GC and their attorney to meet with a representative of the state licensing body to attempt to resolve the matter.
- If the disciplinary charges are not resolved by way of agreement, they will usually proceed to a formal hearing. At the hearing, both sides may introduce evidence and question and cross-examine witnesses.
- At the close of the hearing, a ruling will issue – either in favor of or against the GC.
- If the ruling is against the GC, the state will impose one or more penalties.
The GC typically will be able to appeal an adverse ruling, but the appeals process is usually limited to reviewing the hearing for procedural or legal mistakes. The appeal generally will not be a re-do of the hearing.
Types of Penalties Imposed
State licensing bodies usually have wide discretion when determining what types of penalties to impose on GCs in disciplinary situations. These can range from private reprimands to public penalties that can include censure, monetary fines, mandatory education, and suspension of the GC's license. In situations where drug or alcohol abuse is found, the state may allow the GC to enroll privately in a rehabilitation program while suspending the GC's license for the duration of the program.
Discipline by the ABGC
The American Board of Genetic Counselors also may discipline GC certificate holders, and because having a valid ABGC certificate is a required part of state licensing requirements, loss of the ABGC certificate means the GC will also lose their state license.
The ABGC has its own standards and procedures that apply to its disciplinary proceedings. In addition to the types of conduct that apply in state disciplinary proceedings, the ABGC will also investigate and discipline misconduct that relates to the accreditation and testing process.
You Shouldn't Face a Disciplinary Proceeding Alone
Whether you are facing a state disciplinary proceeding or one brought before the ABGC, you need the help of an experienced professional license defense attorney to protect your ability to practice genetic counseling. Disciplinary proceedings are serious matters that can result in your license being suspended. An experienced professional license defense attorney can help you understand the charges against you, investigate the claims, gather evidence, locate and interview witnesses, and communicate and negotiate with the state licensing authority or the ABGC. Where a hearing takes place, your professional license defense attorney will represent you and help you defend your rights, introducing evidence, cross-examining witnesses, and making arguments on your behalf.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team have years of experience helping licensed professionals, including those in the field of counseling, protect their licenses in disciplinary proceedings. They understand how the discipline process works, what the laws and rules are that apply to it, and how to best defend your license in the face of misconduct allegations. If you've been notified that a misconduct complaint has been filed against you, contact Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team today at 888.535.3686 or through their online contact form. Assistance is available nationwide.