By 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.
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