Earlier this summer, the Hearing Committee of the New York State Board for Professional Medical Conduct (“Board”) revoked the license of a physician assistant for failure to comply with an Order requiring her to undergo a “medical and psychiatric evaluation.” 

In its revocation order, the Board noted that it had previously received information from the Medical Society of the State of New York, Committee on Physician Health, that provided reason to believe that the physician assistant was “impaired by alcohol, drugs, physical disability or mental disability.” Upon receiving this information, the Board invited the physician assistant to a September 26, 2017 meeting in which the information concerning her alleged impairment would be discussed.  Although she was personally served with a letter apprising her of this meeting, she did not attend; thereafter, the Board ordered her to submit to a medical and psychiatric evaluation by a “designated examining physician” no later than October 27, 2017. That Order noted that failure to comply “shall be professional misconduct.”  Because the physician assistant apparently did not undergo the required examination, she was charged with one count of professional misconduct and ordered to appear at a prehearing conference on May 17, 2018 and a hearing on May 24, 2018. The physician assistant failed to appear on both dates, and on June 24, 2018, the Board issued a written “Final Determination and Order” revoking her license. The Board’s Order, however, does not explain why revocation—as opposed to licensure suspension pending a medical and psychiatric evaluation—was the appropriate sanction for this licensee. Instead, in the sole paragraph of the Board’s Order explaining its decision to impose such a drastic sanction, the Board merely stated that it had “considered the full spectrum of penalties available by statute” and that it “unanimously agreed that revocation was the only appropriate penalty to protect the people of the State of New York.” The Board did not elaborate further.

The Board’s Order in this case stands as a cautionary tale for all licensed professionals, including physicians, physician assistants, nurses, chiropractors, veterinarians, and pharmacists, of the severe consequences that may result from a failure to respond to the directives of their licensing authorities. Cognizant that substance abuse disorder afflicts professionals of all stripes, professional licensing boards are generally willing to resolve allegations of substance abuse impairment in a manner that protects the public but also preserves the afflicted, but cooperative, licensee’s ability to resume practice following evidence of rehabilitation. But, as this particularly harsh decision reveals, non-responsiveness will not be tolerated. 

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