George Indest HeadshotBy George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

A resident physician has a tough life while working to become specialized in a medical specialty, especially in the more complex ones. Try to make it less complicated instead of more complicated.

Residents are In Two Different Positions: An Academic Position and an Employee Position.

Residents actually serve in two different positions. One position is as a learner in an academic situation, similar to a student, pursuing post-graduate training and education in an accredited graduate medical education (GME) program. The second position is as a full-time employee, paid to take care of patients in hospitals and other institutions, with a workweek often approaching or exceeding 80 hours a week. Residency training programs may range from three years to six years in length, depending on the medical specialty.

Because of the difficulty of balancing full-time work and full-time academic learning, often while dealing with family, health, and other outside problems, residents often run into difficulties with their GME programs. This may be due to personality conflicts with a program director or attending physician, cultural or religious differences, learning disabilities or other health or physical problems, outside family obligations, a bad fit with the particular program, differences in medical school training, or many other reasons.

The potential resident should attempt to identify what these might be before starting a program and seek to avoid these at any cost. This may be easier said than done, but you must identify the problem before you can fix it.

It Is Important to Know Your Rights and Take Appropriate Actions.

Understanding your due process rights and other legal rights, as well as your program’s grievance and complaint procedures, is crucial in handling serious problems after you are in a program. However, you should always seek to work out your problems informally, seeking advice from and using the resources made available for residents. These resources may include Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), psychological and mental health counseling, the availability of mentors and tutors, the institution’s office for equity, inclusion, and diversity (which may go under different names at different institutions). Request extra tutoring and specialty courses that may be available to help you cope. Seek to eliminate areas of contention or disagreement and to increase areas of commonality and agreement. Seek at all costs to get along with others and work up to expectations.

However, if all efforts fail, then you do have abundant legal rights to protect yourself no matter what program you are in. The Accreditation Commission for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) requires that all accredited GME programs have written policies and procedures in place that provide various rights to residents. These include, for example, the right to file grievances (complaints) when the resident is wronged and these must be formally investigated by the institutions. You will have what the ACGME calls “Due Process” rights (e.g., the right to legal representation, the right to adequate notice, the right to have a fair hearing, etc.) in connection with any type of adverse action taken against you. You will also have the right to appeal adverse decisions, the right to be free of discrimination and harassment, and other valuable rights all ACGME accredited programs must-have.

Obtain and Review All Program Manuals and Handbooks.

The resident should always obtain and review the documents that govern their programs. These are often only mentioned or reviewed in passing during orientation. You should obtain copies of these, review them and save them on your computer. You may not be able to freely access these at the time you actually need them.

Such documents may “GME Handbook,” “Residency Program Manual,” “House Staff Manual,” “Resident Policies and Procedures,” or variations on these names. Your actual resident contract or house staff contract may also have certain rights spelled out in it.

But, as an employee of the hospital or institution, you also have all of the same rights as an employee of any large organization. These may be spelled out in an Employee Handbook. But they will definitely be spelled out in your state’s employment laws. The right to work free of discrimination based on race, national origin, religion, gender, and disability, will be among these.

Take Action to Protect Your Rights and Your Career.

Seek the advice of experienced health care legal counsel at the earliest possible time, even if only to review your options and help decide on a course of action. If you receive a written counseling, remediation, performance improvement plan (PIP) corrective action plan (CAP), suspension, or probation, seek legal advice from an attorney experience with graduate medical education programs. At the very least, consult on how to respond and what to do next to be prepared.

These problems and issues are ones for a board-certified healthcare lawyer familiar with such programs, not an employment lawyer, contract lawyer, trial lawyer, or criminal defense lawyer. Know the difference.

Click here to read about the qualifications of a board-certified healthcare lawyer.

For more information, visit our YouTube page and watch our latest video on residency program disputes.

Contact Experienced Health Law Attorneys Representing Medical Students, Residents and Fellows.

The Health Law Firm routinely represents medical students, residents and fellows who run into difficulties and have disputes with their medical schools or programs. We also represent other health providers in investigations, regulatory matters, licensing issues, litigation, inspections, and audits involving the DEA, Department of Health (DOH), and other law enforcement agencies. Its attorneys include those who are board-certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law as well as licensed health professionals who are also attorneys.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or Toll-Free (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at

Our attorneys can represent you anywhere in the U.S. and anywhere in Florida.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law is an attorney with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 or Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
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