By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law
We are asking whether the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME), perhaps acting through the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG), is investigating Caribbean medical schools such as Ross University School of Medicine, Dominica, West Indies (RUSM); Aureus University School of Medicine, Aruba (AUSM); American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine, St. Maarten (AUCSM); Atlantic University School of Medicine, St. Lucia (AUSOM); or others, based on recent potential client consultations. We have had recent reports that seem to indicate at least one such investigation might be ongoing and relate to allegations that students may have been advised to falsify information provided on applications to take the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE), Step 1, Step 2CK and Step 2CS.
Providing incorrect. incomplete or false information on an application to take one of the Step examinations is, of course, defined as “irregular behavior.” This is a term used by the USMLE to refer to a number of different types of situations. Please see a previous blog I wrote on this subject by clicking here.
Unfortunately, if you are accused of irregular behavior and you are not successful at disproving this charge, your transcript of USMLE step examination test scores will be marked with an entry of “Irregular Behavior.” It is on there for life. To someone reading this transcript, this often is interpreted the same as “Cheater.” We have heard from those who have suffered this outcome that it has prevented them from matching for residencies and obtaining jobs. To see another blog I wrote about this, click here.
From what we have been able to piece together, there are allegations that one or more staff members at one or more Caribbean medical schools advised to delete any reference to a prior medical school attended on that person’s application to take a Step examination. Why this could have been done, we can only speculate.
Regardless, we have been informed that officials from one or more of the organizations involved in approving those who sit for the Step exams have been requesting affidavits from students relating to all of the facts and circumstances surrounding such advice from a medical school employee. In another case, we have seen a written request from one of the organizations for any information regarding any conversations that student had with officials at two different Caribbean Universities, including complete details.
The last such big scale investigation of which we were aware centered around the now defunct Optima University prep course cheating scandal involving hundreds of foreign medical graduates. To read an article I wrote on this, click here:
To see a blog I wrote on this, click here:
Hopefully, this matter will not turn out to be as serious as the Optima University matter was.
For some tips on preparing for a hearing to defend against allegations of irregular behavior, see this prior blog I wrote by clicking here.
Regardless, if you are approached by an investigator, receive a letter asking for an affidavit or statement from you or if you are accused of irregular behavior, please at least consult with a good, experienced attorney who knows about such matters before you do anything else.
What characteristics should you be looking for in an attorney to represent you in such cases? Here are some questions I suggest you ask or research to obtain answers to before hiring an attorney.
1. What is your legal specialty? Do you have one? Is it recognized as a legal specialty by your state Bar association and supreme court?
2. Are you familiar with the NBME, USMLE and ECFMG, and hearings on irregular behavior? Explain.
3. How many hearings have you done where you appeared before a committee on irregular behavior of the ECFMG or NBME?
4. How many physicians have you represented and in what types of cases?
5. How long have you been practicing law?
6. Have you ever been disciplined by your state bar or any court or organization before which you practiced? (Research this one for yourself.)
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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. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.
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