You've gone through years of education and training to become a veterinarian, including an undergraduate degree, your doctor of veterinary medicine degree (DVM), clinical rotations, passing the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination, meeting state requirements, and sometimes undergoing additional training for a specialty area of practice. While your love for animals may drive you, you've invested a lot of time and money in your career as well. That's why hearing that someone has complained to your state board of veterinary medicine about your work, ethics, or professionalism can be a real blow.
Each state in the U.S. has its own board of veterinary medicine that oversees its veterinarians' education, training, licensing, and professionalism. As part of this responsibility, the board also sets and enforces professional and ethical standards for licensed veterinarians. The board must investigate if your state's board receives a complaint about a licensed veterinarian under their oversight. You will also have a duty to cooperate in the investigation, but you also have the right to have an attorney protecting your rights during the process. With such high stakes, you need a skilled advocate from the Professional License Defense Team at the Lento Law Firm.
Common Triggers for Veterinary Board Investigations
A complaint to the veterinary board can come from almost anyone you interact with professionally or from the court system notifying the board of an arrest or conviction. However, there are some situations and complaints that are most likely to trigger an investigation by your state veterinarian board, including:
- Fraud or theft, including overbilling clients and private insurance, charging for procedures not performed, and upcoding,
- An arrest or conviction, particularly if it involved a substance abuse or alcohol offense,
- Failing to report an arrest or conviction,
- Gross negligence, particularly if it resulted in serious harm or death for a furry patient,
- Patient or customer abuse, including verbal, physical, or sexual abuse or harassment,
- Inappropriately prescribing medication, particularly narcotics, and
- Substance abuse or alcohol abuse.
Veterinary Board Investigations and the Disciplinary Process
Every state follows specific investigatory and disciplinary procedures outlined in the state board of veterinary medicine's rules and regulations. Still, most follow the same process, including a complaint, investigation, hearing, and appeal. When determining whether the allegations against you have merit, the board and the ALJ will not use the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard you may be familiar with from criminal trials. Instead, they will use the “clear and convincing evidence” standard, meaning they believe it's highly probable the allegations are true.
- Complaint: The process begins with a complaint to your state board of veterinary medicine. The board will examine whether the allegations violate the state's professional standards or ethics.
- Investigation: The board will notify you of the complaint in writing and may ask for a response to the complaint or responses to written interrogatories or document requests. The board may also request an informal hearing or meeting to ask you additional questions about the complaint. If, after this investigation, the board believes the complaint is without merit, they can dismiss it.
- Consent Decree: If the board believes the complaint allegations merit sanctions against you, they will first attempt to negotiate a consent decree. You and your attorney can discuss whether this is a good option to resolve the complaint quickly.
- Formal Complaint and Hearing: If you disagree with the board and can't agree to a consent decree, the board may file a complaint against you with the state. Then, you may have a formal hearing before an Administrative Law Judge who will hear evidence and witness testimony. If the ALJ finds against you, they will also order a punishment or sanction.
- Appeal: If the ALJ makes a finding against you, you will have only a short period to appeal to the court. However, in your appeal, the court will only review the ALJ's decision for mistakes of material fact or law; they will not review your entire case.
Common Penalties from the Veterinary Board
During the disciplinary process, the veterinary board, in negotiating a consent decree, and the Administrative Law Judge, after your hearing, will have various possible punishments available based on your state regulations. Common punishments include:
- Revoking your license to practice veterinary medicine, ending your career,
- Suspending your license for a set period,
- Placing limitations on your ability to practice, perform surgery, or prescribe medication,
- Placing conditions on retaining your license, such as additional veterinary medicine education, alcohol or substance abuse treatment, counseling, or supervised probation,
- Fines and restitution,
- Issuing a public reprimand, and
- Issuing a private reprimand.
Contact the Lento Law Firm for Help With a Veterinary Board Investigation
It's natural to believe you can clear up a complaint to the board by simply explaining your side. But the board can use anything you say or write to them during the investigation against you in a disciplinary proceeding. Moreover, negotiating a consent decree or presenting your case during a formal hearing can be challenging without in-depth knowledge of professional licensing law, litigation, and administrative law. A skilled lawyer can help you present the best possible case and protect your career.
It's important to remember that even allegations of misconduct can harm your professional career, and a finding against you by the veterinarian board can be devastating, especially if the findings are public. That's why you need an experienced lawyer protecting your rights. The Professional License Defense Team at the Lento Law Firm can help.
How the Lento Law Firm Can Help You
If you're facing misconduct allegations from your state board of veterinary medicine, you don't have to handle this alone. The skilled Professional License Defense Team at the Lento Law Firm can help. They've been defending licensed professionals like you for years across the country. Give them a call today at 888-535-3686, or contact them online to schedule your consultation.