Medical Students, Interns & Residents Beware: A Finding of “Irregular Behavior” Can Ruin Your Medical Career Before it Starts

4 Indest-2009-3By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

A medical student, intern or resident may receive a letter from the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME), United States Medical Licensee Examination (USMLE) Secretariat advising them that they are suspected of “irregular behavior” on a Step examination. In the case of graduates of foreign medical schools, this will be a letter from the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG). Although “irregular behavior” is not the same thing as “cheating,” it is often thought of as the same by medical school officials and residency program directors.

A notice of irregular behavior may delay your entry into a residency program, your graduation from medical school and your potential job opportunities. Your examination scores will be held up while the matter is investigated until a Committee review or hearing can be held.

It is imperative that anyone accused of irregular behavior immediately consult with legal counsel experienced in such matters. At The Health Law Firm, we have represented a number of medical students, interns and residents in hearings on irregular behavior and we have consulted with many before on these matters.

Don’t Listen to Bad Advice.

The following are examples of erroneous advice we have heard was given to those accused of irregular behavior:

1. You shouldn’t have a lawyer represent you in such matters because this will make the Committee angry at you.

2. You don’t need a lawyer because you can just explain it yourself.

3. You just write a statement and explain it; the Committee will understand and find in your favor.

4. You do not need to request a hearing on it because if you submit documents, the Committee will review them, find in your favor and no hearing will be necessary.

5. If you request a hearing on the matter, you do not need to attend it in person.

6. If you request a hearing, an attorney is not allowed to represent you at the hearing.

7. You should not worry about the Committee finding against you because you can always appeal the finding or sue in court.

The above advice is wrong. The only advice you should listen to is the advice of an attorney who is experienced in handling matters of irregular behavior.

The Importance of Retaining Experienced Legal Defense.

The biggest problem faced by an individual accused of irregular behavior who does have a valid defense is to concisely and adequately explain the situation. Additionally, you must produce evidence that supports what you are saying.

Someone who is not trained in the legal profession and who is not familiar with such hearings will be unfamiliar with the process even though such hearings are not as formal as court hearings. Additionally, it is easy for a non-lawyer who is not familiar with the rules of the USMLE to fail to address those concerns and get side tracked on irrelevant matters.

Additionally, documents, statements, affidavits, expert witness reports and other documents presented to the Committee as evidence should be well organized, indexed, with a table of contents, pages numbered and summarized. This will better present an organized, easily understood defense. Sending in a few stray documents with no organization or explanation how the documents relate to the issues can be far less than effective.
Consequences of an Irregular Behavior Finding.

If a finding of irregular behavior is made against you, then this usually means that your best score is voided and you must retake it. The Committee may require you to wait a year or more to retake the examination. This can prevent you from obtaining or entering a residency program or it may delay you from graduating. Furthermore, the notation that you were found to have committed irregular behavior will be placed on your Step exam transcript. This will be reported out when your test scores are reported.

As indicated above, many medical decision makers view this as similar to cheating. It may disqualify you for many jobs or residency programs that you would otherwise be considered for.

If the time and money you have spent on your medical career is valued by you, you will act promptly to retain legal counsel experienced in USMLE hearings and procedures to represent you. You wouldn’t perform surgery on yourself. You shouldn’t attempt to represent yourself in such legal matters.

The takeaway message is that retaining an attorney to represent you against irregular behavior allegations could be the difference between a clear record and a mark that will follow you for the rest of your career. Don’t risk jeopardizing your future as a healthcare practitioner. Consult with an attorney as soon as you receive notice of allegations against you regarding irregular behavior.

To learn more on the repercussions of findings of irregular behavior, click here to read one of my prior blogs.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Matters of Irregular Behavior Today.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm provide legal representation to medical students, residents, interns and fellows in irregular behavior allegations, USMLE issues, academic disputes, graduate medical education (GME) hearings, contract negotiations, license applications, board certification applications and hearings, credential hearings, and civil and administrative litigations.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

KeyWords: Legal representation for allegations of irregular behavior, legal representation for USMLE investigations, National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME), irregular behavior defense attorney, legal representation for medical students, legal representation for medical residents, United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE), Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG), legal representation for USMLE hearings , legal counsel for USMLE appeals, health law defense attorney, ECFMG defense counsel, ECFMG legal representation, ECFMG hearing attorney, medical student attorney, medical resident lawyer, medical intern attorney, legal representation for civil proceeding, legal representation for criminal proceeding, legal representation for administrative proceeding, medical administrative hearings defense attorney, The Health Law Firm, reviews of The Health Law Firm attorneys, The Health Law Firm reviews, USMLE Committee for Individualized Review (CIR) hearing attorney, ECFMG Committee for Individualized Review (CIR) hearing lawyer

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of The Health Law Firm, P.A., and Florida professional service corporation, since 1999, and is also a registered service mark. Copyright © 2017 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

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20 Tips Plus a Bonus for Physicians Negotiating Their Own Employment Contracts

4 Indest-2009-3By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

At The Health Law Firm, we often receive calls from physicians and health professionals about reviewing and negotiating contracts, preparing contracts, helping employers and employees enforce contracts, voiding contracts, getting out of contracts and litigating various contract provisions. Physicians and other health professionals should understand the common language and terms found in employment contracts for professionals so they can recognize mistakes commonly when negotiating them.

Our comments here are meant to provide general tips we have learned from our experience. However, please remember, every situation is different and there are exceptions to every rule. I have added a “bonus tip” here, because of recent problems our clients have had.

“Bonus Tip;” The Prime Directive.

My primary tip, and I would say it is the most important, is to know the persons and parties with whom you are contracting and be sure the contract contains that information. Make sure you know the complete name and residence address of the principal person with whom you are dealing. Then be sure you know the complete information on any business entity with which you are dealing, including state of incorporation (or organization), shareholders (or “owners” or members), and address of its main headquarters (principal place of business). If other business entities are the shareholders, owners or members of the entity for which you will be working, you need to find out the same information for each of them. Make sure they are all authorized to do business in your state and have the appropriate licenses that your state requires.

In Florida, any medical business that is not actually 100% owned by Florida licensed physicians or health professionals must have a Health Care Clinic license issued by the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration. Dental practices and optometry practices cannot be owned by anyone who is not licensed to practice dentistry in the state of Florida. Some unscrupulous business people attempt to skirt the law by setting up phoney or “straw man” owners that are physicians or dentists. This is illegal, a felony in many cases, so be cautious. My advice would be not to sign up with a business entity that has been created solely for the purpose of contracting with you and which has no assets. This has been a real problem, lately.

20 More Tips.

The following are a few tips for any physician who is involved in negotiating his or her own employment agreement.

1. There is no such thing as a “standard physician employment agreement.”

2. Everything is negotiable.

3. Be sure the wording of the contract represents exactly the agreement you made. If it is different or not specified, the language in the contract will govern in any future dispute.

4. Be sure that every blank in the contract is completed and filled in before you sign.

5. Be sure that every Exhibit, Addendum or Schedule referred to in the contract is completed and attached before you sign.

6. Shun “legal” advice from your peers and, especially, from the accountants and representatives of your future employer. Misinformation about legal issues abounds. Just because one court may have decided a legal issue a certain way in one case in one state does not mean a different court would not reach a different decision, even in the same state or county. Every set of facts and circumstances, every contract and every case are different.

7. Obtain and review copies of every document referred to in the agreement. These are considered part of the agreement. These may include the practice’s policies and procedures, the employee handbook, a code of conduct, sexual harassment policy, compliance agreements, etc. Keep these in a file with a copy of your contract.

8. Carefully consider clauses that allow the employer to terminate the agreement without cause on a 30 day, 60 day, 90 day or 180 day notice. With such a clause in your contract, you no longer have a one year or two year agreement. Instead, you have a 30 day, 60 day, 90 day or 180 day contract. Can you find another job and relocate in 30 days or 60 days?

9. If there is a “for cause” termination provision in the contract, be sure to include a “cure” provision. This is a provision which requires the employer to provide you written notice of any deficiency or breach and allows you a certain period of time (usually anywhere from 10 to 30 days) to cure it.

10. Ensure the contract is clear throughout that you are an employee and not an independent contractor. Employees receive far more benefits and have more protections under the law than do independent contractors. If you sign on as an independent contractor, you will be assuming many expenses and liabilities that the employer would ordinarily be required to assume.

11. A promise to make you a “partner” or “shareholder” in the practice after a certain period of time will not be enforceable unless all of the terms are specified in order for a court to enforce it. (Price, timing, percentage of ownership, method of payment of the buy-in, etc.). Think of an option to purchase a house. Unless all of the terms for a binding contract are set forth in writing and agreed to by the parties, it will not be enforceable.

12. If you sign the agreement, be prepared to honor it. Do not sign an agreement thinking that there may be certain provisions that won’t be enforceable or that you won’t be required to follow in the future. Assume that every part of the contract is enforceable.

13. Restrictive covenants (sometimes referred to as covenants not to compete) are enforceable in Florida. Although there are many exceptions and defenses that can be used to defeat or prevent the enforcement of a restrictive covenant, unless you have the money set aside to finance litigation, expect to honor it if it is in the agreement. As an employee, your negotiation strategy should be to: a) have it removed completely, or b) reduce the period of time and reduce the geographic area as low as possible. Also, it should be worded so as to only apply to the office or location in which you work and to the medical subspecialty or type of practice in which you will work.

14. Avoid assuming any obligation to pay the premium for tail coverage for professional liability (medical malpractice) insurance, especially if the employer terminates the employment. If you are not able to negotiate this away completely: a) reduce the percentage you agree to pay to 50% or have it reduced 25% for each year you are in the practice, and b) insert a provision that if you maintain the same insurance company or obtain retroactive coverage, this will be substituted for tail coverage.

15. Visit the practice, hospital and area at least three (3) times before signing. One of these visits should be without the knowledge of the potential employer when you can tour the geographic area and, perhaps, the hospitals on your own.

16. Contact any physicians you know or have met in the past who live in the area or any surrounding areas. They may be able to provide you information regarding your potential employer, hospital or city that may affect your decision.

17. Do your “due diligence” before agreeing. Ask to see actual billing and collections figures and income statements. Talk to other associates. If your compensation will be based on productivity, speak with another physician who is similarly compensated about how his/her compensation is computed. Visit any hospital, nursing home or other facility where you will have privileges or see patients. Discuss the quality of the equipment and stuff with other physicians and physicians in surrounding communities.

18. Do not buy a permanent residence (house or condominium) during your first two years of employment with a new practice in a new location. Rent or rent with an option to purchase. This will give you much more flexibility if the employment situation does not work out to your expectations.

19. If you receive a signing bonus, put it in the bank in a CD or money market to use as needed in connection with tips 14 and 15 above. This may be your personal “golden parachute” if you need to leave a bad situation.

20. Do not start working until you have a copy of the employment agreement. A draft copy if not sufficient. A copy signed by you but not by the employer is not sufficient. The most common problem we see when there is a physician employment dispute is that the employee does not have a copy of the contract that is signed by the employer.

Contact a Health Care Attorney Experienced in Negotiating and Evaluating Physician and Health Professional’s Business Transactions.

At the Health Law Firm we provide legal services for all health care providers and professionals. This includes physicians, nurses, dentists, psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health counselors, durable medical equipment suppliers (DME), medical students and interns, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, pain management clinics, nursing homes, and any other health care provider.

The services we provide include reviewing and negotiating contracts, preparing contracts, helping employers and employees enforce contracts, advice on setting aside or voiding contracts, litigation of contracts (in start or federal court), business transactions, professional license defense, opinion letters, representation in investigations, fair hearing defense, representation in peer review and clinical privileges hearings, litigation of restrictive covenant (covenants not to compete), Medicare and Medicaid audits, commercial litigation, and administrative hearings.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

KeyWords: Physician employment agreement, physician employment contract, health professional contracting, negotiating business transactions, physician contracts, contracting tips, legal representation for physician contracts, legal representation for negotiating physician contracts, contracting defense attorney, physician contract attorney, legal representation for contract litigation, legal representation for business litigation, legal counsel for contract terms, legal representation for physician agreements, legal representation for business transactions, legal counsel for restrictive covenants, legal counsel for noncompetition agreements, The Health Law Firm reviews, reviews of The Health Law Firm attorneys, health law defense attorney, health law attorney

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of The Health Law Firm, P.A., and Florida professional service corporation, since 1999, and is also a registered service mark. Copyright © 2017 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.