The purpose of this article is to educate physicians regarding the process of reinstating a medical license after surrendering it due to substance abuse. Suffice it to say, the road to the restoration is longer than you think it will be. What follows is the sequence of events in a case I just concluded.
The physician in question had a serious substance issue and was forced to surrender his/her medical license in early 2013. I put the physician in contact with The Committee on Physician Health (CPH), a New York organization that treats and monitors physicians with addiction issues. The physician first went to an in-patient facility in a neighboring state but, due to physical issues that required several operative procedures, the necessary time under treatment for the substance situation could not be completed.
The physician then completed a 90-day in-patient stay at a different out of state facility and returned to New York in early 2014 for out-patient treatment and monitoring under the guidance of CPH. With CPH, the physician was treated by a psychiatrist, a psychologist, had a substance monitor and had to undergo random urine monitoring five or six times per month. There were also several required trips to Albany to meet with CPH officials in person. All of this was done with the purpose of having CPH convinced that the physician was safe to practice medicine and the substance abuse was not an issue anymore. The final point of this monitoring to get to the position where CPH states that they can “advocate” at a Department of Health Hearing on behalf of the physician. Without CPH doing this advocating, the possibility of having the license reinstated is very low. CPH’s cooperation in this setting is almost mandatory.
This CPH out-patient monitoring went on for over a year and a half before CPH advised me that they were prepared to testify as to the physician’s safety to practice at the Department of Health hearing. I contacted the Office of Professional Medical Conduct, OPMC, to arrange for a hearing date. It took two months to find a convenient date for everyone to be present at the hearing. There were three members of the panel who would make the decision, two people from OPMC, me and eight witnesses to testify on behalf of the physician. These eight included the physician, the spouse, the psychiatrist, the substance monitor, the director of the out of state facility, the psychologist and two people from CPH. All of these people testified under my questioning on one day in the middle of December 2015.
The written report from the hearing panel did not arrive until early May of 2016, a five-month period of time. As you can imagine, the physician was looking for the report to arrive much earlier, but I can tell you that things do not happen quickly in this area of the law.
The decision did reinstate the physician’s medical license. But there is a requirement that the physician attends a two-day clinical assessment course to ensure that all of the necessary skills are still present. This assessment will cost the physician about $8,000 out of pocket and if any areas of medicine are deemed to need work, the physician will then have to address those areas through additional education.
Hopefully, this article will provide meaningful information to any physician who is in this position. Do not think that this is an easy road and do not think you will get your license back quickly. OPMC and CPH both want to be as certain as possible that you will not relapse into substance use. Addiction is very difficult to overcome and the rate of recurrence is high. If a physician is under the influence of any type of substance, there is obviously a clear danger to the patients of that physician. In the end, you can again practice as a physician. Just bear in mind that you have to prepare to wait much longer than you expect for this process to play itself out.
Walker Medical Law proudly serves the greater New York area with effective legal services representing physicians and other medical providers facing legal and license issues. If you need our assistance for your legal matter, contact our New York office for a consultation.