License sense: Steps for handling a state board sanction
It’s every veterinarian’s nightmare: You don’t follow up sufficiently with a patient’s progress or you make a mistake that leads to a bad outcome and the owner reports you to your state veterinary board. The board investigates, you retain legal counsel, but the outcome isn’t great: You receive a sanction. Maybe you’re ordered to undergo a period of supervised practice, or worse—your license is suspended.
Once the legal proceedings are over, you’re relieved to have the whole miserable experience behind you. The investigation and the hearing (most likely adjourned or rescheduled several times, resulting in many days away from work) took months, maybe even a year, to conclude. But now the penalty has been determined and you’ve made arrangements to comply with the board’s decision. It’s over, thank goodness. Or is it?
Don’t forget that years ago you took multiple state boards. You have a license in one or more states near the one in which you practice in case you decide to change jobs. You also took the state boards in Florida (or some other warm locale) so you can work part-time in “retirement” without having to take any exams 30 or so years down the road.
Back to your current situation: What do you do about all of those other licenses? Even if you’ve got a great attorney, it may not occur to him or her to ask you about licenses in jurisdictions other than the one that found you liable for professional misconduct. It’s up to you to take steps to make it right. Here’s a guide:
Step 1: Discuss with your counsel the fact that you hold veterinary licenses in other states, territories or countries. Once your attorney is made aware, he or she can research your filing obligations with those jurisdictions. Many states and some foreign countries have statutes requiring veterinarians who’ve been disciplined elsewhere to notify them. And these notification requirements may have short time limits, so don’t dilly-dally.
Step 2: Contact your other licensing states, either personally or through an attorney or representative, to discover what you need to do next to meet your legal obligations. Many veterinarians either neglect to do this or simply keep their fingers crossed that no other states will discover that they were penalized for professional misconduct elsewhere. This is a big mistake. State veterinary boards frequently notify other jurisdictions that they’ve taken punitive action against a licensee. If your state board notifies your “retirement state” that you’ve had, say, a license suspension and you fail to notify them first, that second state may decide you’ve messed up twice—first for misconduct and second for trying to skirt your duty to notify.
Step 3: Put on your big boy or big girl pants and undertake the satisfaction of your board’s decision as soon as possible. Take a cue from Martha Stewart, who elected to go straight to jail and serve her time without any attempts to delay a virtually inevitable trip to the big house. If the board wants you to arrange supervised practice, arrange it ASAP. If they sentence you to a license suspension, accept it and get it started. (Note: This advice assumes you don’t have any clear grounds for an appeal, in which case the appeal should certainly be made. Decide this with your lawyer.)
Step 4: Find out, either through your lawyer or by calling your other licensing jurisdictions personally, whether you’re able to practice in that state during your home state suspension. You can also ask where a clinical sanction such as “mentored” or “supervised” practice can be carried out to satisfy the sanctioning state board. You might be able to get it done in a venue that’s more convenient or where supervised practice is more widely available. For example, perhaps your “retirement state” has numerous private clinics or emergency practices anxious to host and mentor you.
Step 5: Prepare yourself for the unexpected. While it may seem unfair, it wouldn’t be uncommon for other states to undertake their own investigation of the same event of professional impropriety or malpractice. For example, let’s say you’re found liable for having improperly treated a horse in Kentucky, but by the time that determination is made, you’ve moved to Florida. Once Florida is notified by you (or by Kentucky’s state board) of the malpractice determination, Florida will likely open its own investigation into the event. If Florida determines that the malpractice in Kentucky would also have amounted to malpractice under Florida law, Florida may level additional sanctions and penalties against you.
Any veterinarian who becomes the subject of a veterinary board hearing needs to explore the impact of that investigation and its final determination on any licenses held in other states or foreign countries. Each jurisdiction must be satisfied within its own time limitations. Failure to comply with all the rules may result in license revocation, which can make subsequent renewals problematic later on.
Remember to also faithfully renew your license defense insurance policy. One state board license claim can be really expensive to defend. So just imagine the costs if you happen to have two or more licenses and all those states decide they need to call you to answer for some past indiscretion elsewhere.