12 Tips on Protecting Your Rights and Defending Yourself Against Irregular Behavior Charges from the USMLE
Thursday, November 7, 2019
By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law
If you are one of those unlucky individuals who have been accused of irregular behavior by the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Secretariat, then it is extremely important for you to know this information.
USMLE hearings on irregular behavior are almost always held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, before a large committee the committee on individual review or "CIR," appointed to hear such cases. The committee is composed of medical school professors, doctors, medical school administrators, members of various medical specialty associations, and others. The hearings are held in one of the conference rooms of the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME) Building in Philadelphia.
We routinely represent medical students and graduates who have taken the USMLE Step exams and have later been accused of irregular behavior. This includes hearings, appeals and other legal matters involving the Step Exams, credentials, responding to inquiries about the misconduct of school officials and related matters.
What is Irregular Behavior?
Irregular behavior can include many different types of action. We have seen cases in which someone set the test center building on fire in order to have the test (which was ongoing) canceled with irregular behavior because they wrote on their hand or their arm or ankle during the examination. We have seen individuals charged with irregular behavior because they had handwriting on the bottom of a flip flop or a sheet of toilet paper; we have seen individuals charged with irregular behavior because they used their iPhone during a break or they were not still in medical school on the day the Step exam was given. We have seen those charged with irregular behavior for altering their test scores on their test transcripts, even though they received a passing grade and because they posted "Me too" on a website where someone had asked if anyone had copies of "The Houston Cases" or wanted them.
We have seen those charged with irregular behavior because they posted information on an Internet website that the USMLE thought was too similar to actual test materials. We have seen individuals charged because they used forged documents to obtain access to the test or to apply to monitor's instructions at the test center. We have seen individuals charged with irregular behavior for sending forged test scores to their medical school. We have seen applicants charged with irregular behavior for not following the monitor's directions at the test center. We have represented test-takers who were accused of irregular behavior because their test answers were too "statistically similar" to those of another test taker who took the test at a different location and date.
We have represented medical students charged with irregular behavior because they had completed their USMLE applications incorrectly, using the information that their medical school officials had told them to place on the forms. We have represented medical school students charged with irregular behavior because their medical schools had placed the wrong information on their cation forms (note: later the medical school itself was found to have been guilty of irregular behavior by the organization.)
However, allegations of irregular behavior can usually be easily overcome with an explanation of the truth. It is up to you (and us, if you hire us) to present the truth as to what really happened and why it happened.
Although it is our best advice that you retain the services of an experienced health lawyer, specifically one experienced in dealing with the USMLE and in representing applicants in USMLE or
Tips for Preparing for a Hearing Before the Committee on Individual Review of the USMLE.
Following are several of the most important tips we can present on how to best prepare for a hearing before the Committee on Individual Review of charges of Irregular Behavior.
1. Be sure to request a complete copy of the USMLE's file and work case, including any investigation, incident reports, videos, or other materials, before you file a response, in writing.
2. Be sure that you file your statement, explanation, or other appropriate documents (depending on the facts and circumstances of your case) prior to the deadline given in the initial letter to you. Document its transmission to and receipt by the USMLE.
3. If you need an extension of time, request this in writing prior to the expiration of the deadline given to you in the original letter. Do this in writing and keep a copy.
4. Be sure that you request in writing a hearing and to appear in person at the hearing prior to the deadline given in the initial letter to you. (Note: if are already going to appear at the same hearing meeting, we can give you a discount from our normal legal fees for this representation. Ask about this.)
5. If you are unable to appear in person at the hearing in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on the date provided in the initial letter, ask that your hearing be postponed until the next available date, and provide good, sufficient reasons why you are unable to attend on the original date given.
6. Be very careful and deliberate about what you state in writing. Any statement you make should be well-organized, professionally prepared, and supported by adequate, relevant, affidavits and documents. This is another reason why you should have an attorney preparing and submitting this for you.
7. In some cases, we recommend hiring an expert to review the case and provide us an expert affidavit to submit. This may be the case when confronted with charges based on statistical analysis, computer systems issue, testing procedures, questionable documents, or other technical matters.
8. Your statement and presentation should directly address the allegations made against you. You are strongly encouraged to review the blog I previously wrote on preparing professional correspondence here.
9. Never lie or submit any false information or documents. The USMLE will thoroughly investigate any suspicious or questionable facts or materials you submit. This can extend to the use of private investigators to locate and interview witnesses, forged documents, or questioned document examiners to analyze documents submitted, and other such methods. Submitting any false information can lead to vastly more severe actions against you.
10. Get prepared for your hearing. Think about and rehearse what you will say. You will be under a lot of stress, in front of about 20 people, most of whom will be asking questions to you. If you are not ready for this, it will be to your detriment.
11. Expect the usual questions. But then, also expect the unusual questions that you may be asked. Plan for what questions may be asked by the Committee members. We always prepare our clients to testify and to be prepared to answer various questions that we know are likely to be asked.
12. Remember that you will be in an unusual, stressful, situation, one which you have probably never experienced before. Plan for this. Obtain as much information about the situation as you can. If you are not used to attending contentious hearings and being cross-examined and interrogated (which 99.9% of doctors are not), then you need to have an experienced attorney sitting next to you.
These are important matters that will affect your future career as a physician. Consider how much in time you have spent and how much in tuition, fees and student loans you have incurred to get this far. Is it smart to scrimp at this point in time and take the cheap way out by either trying to represent yourself or finding a cheap, inexperienced attorney to represent you?
Click here to read one of my prior blogs on the consequences of irregular behavior.
The Health Law Firm and its attorneys represent interns, residents, fellows and medical school students in disputes with their medical schools, supervisors, residency programs and in dismissal hearings. We have experience representing such individuals and those in graduate medical education programs in various disputes regarding their academic and clinical performance, allegations of substance abuse, failure to complete integral parts training, alleged false or incomplete statements on applications, allegations of impairment (because of abuse or addiction to drugs or alcohol or because of mental or physical issues), because of discrimination due to race, sex, national origin, sexual orientation and any other matters. We routinely help those who have disputes with the National Board fo Medical Examiners (NBME), the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Secretariat , and the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG), including on hearings and appeals concerning “Irregular Behavior,” “unprofessionalism,” and “Irregular Conduct.”
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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