Category Archives: Medical Students

Medical Students and Residents Must Fight Allegations of “Irregular Behavior” on the USMLE Step Exams

6 Indest-2008-3By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

I am constantly taking calls from medical students and residents (or future residents) relating to allegations brought against them of “irregular behavior” in connection with the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) exams. Although the term “irregular behavior” is equated by many with the word “cheating,” it is actually defined by the USMLE to mean:

Irregular behavior includes any action by applicants, examinees, potential applicants, or others when solicited by an applicant and/or examinee that subverts or attempts to subvert the examination process.

The notice that a person has been accused of irregular behavior may come in a letter from the USMLE, National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME), or Examination Committee for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG). In serious cases, one might be approached by a private investigator or law enforcement authority, for example in the case of an alleged theft of an examination or illegal use of examination questions.

Regardless, any notice that you are suspected or accused of irregular behavior should be treated as an extremely serious matter that can suspend your medical education or residency and place your medical career on hold. You should immediately contact an attorney familiar with health and medical law and, especially, one familiar with USMLE, NBME and ECFMG proceedings.

Examples of What Not To Do.

A few examples of irregular behavior we have consulted on include:

1.  A student soliciting information about the contents of a USMLE step examination in an online blog.

2.  Individuals blogging online regarding a certain step exam preparation course they took when the course instructor allegedly used actual examination questions to teach it.

3.  An individual allegedly using an iPhone during a step examination.

4.  Someone setting a fire in a bathroom in the testing center where the examination was given.

5.  An individual who allegedly had written notes on his arm to use during the exam.

6.  Someone who wrote down notes about the exam on a piece of tissue paper after the exam was over.

No matter how trivial the matter may initially seem, it can have devastating effects. The reporting of your test results will be held up until the matter is completely resolved, thereby delaying entry into or continuation of a residency program or, in some cases, medical school graduation. Choice residencies can be lost and a promising medical career can be placed on hold.

If irregular behavior is confirmed, test scores will be voided, your transcript of USMLE tests will be annotated with the fact that you were found to have committed irregular behavior and you may not be allowed to retake the exams for a period of time. This can really screw up your life.

Ask for a Hearing and Be Prepared.

If you are accused of irregular behavior, you will be given the right to have a hearing before a committee of the USMLE which will hear evidence on the matter. Ask for the hearing! Do not waive it.

You will have the right to submit documents on your own behalf. Do this. Use any favorable document that supports your side of the story, shows your good character, shows your academic and clinical performance and mitigates from the seriousness of the alleged conduct.

Attend the hearing in person and with your attorney. You have this right. Do not expect to win a hearing if you do not attend it yourself to answer any questions the committee may have. These committee hearings are all held at MBE headquarters in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, so it may be a challenge to attend. But you must do so; this may be the most important hearing of your life.

Retain expert witnesses to support you if appropriate. In matters where a statistical extrapolation is used against you, a statistics expert can be a valuable asset.

Many times the facts of the situation turn out to be far different from what the USMLE secretarial has initially reported. But you must avail yourself to the procedures and opportunity to prove this.

Don’t delay. At your first notice, contact an experienced attorney to represent you. The stakes are too high to gamble on handling it yourself.

Contact Experienced Health Law Attorneys Today.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm provide legal representation to medical students, residents, interns and fellows in 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.

Comments?

Have you faced the Committee? What was the experience like? Did you retain experienced legal counsel? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

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.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Tips for Medical Students and Medical Residents Accused of Irregular Behavior on the USMLE

Patricia's Photos 013By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

We frequently receive calls for consultations from students who receive a letter from the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME) accusing the medical student or medical resident of “Irregular Behavior” on the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). In many cases these are graduates of foreign medical schools who have applied through the Examination Committee for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG).

Irregular behavior can consist of many different things before, during or after taking the USMLE.  What you must know is that, in effect, you are being accused of cheating.

Examples of What The USMLE Defines  as “Irregular Behavior.”

Examples of the types of conduct which we have seen before include:

-  Attending a commercial USMLE preparation course that provides some of the actual examination questions.

-  Soliciting information on the contents or questions on the examination.

-  Using a cell phone during the examination.

-  Talking with another person during the examination.

-  Sharing information on the types of questions or cases that were on your examination with another person or on a blog over the internet.

These are just a few.  For more examples, please see an article I wrote on this by clicking here.

When Accused of Irregular Behavior Don’t Do  The Following.

We have represented students accused of irregular behavior by consulting with them before and after USMLE hearings and on appealing the results. We have represented a number of examinees at the hearings held before the NBME at its headquarters in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

From our experience in such cases, the following are the errors that most of you will make when accused by the USMLE of irregular behavior.

1.  You will fail to obtain an attorney experienced with such cases immediately upon receipt of a letter from the NBME accusing you of irregular behavior.  Take this as a formal charge accusing you of, in effect, cheating.  THIS IS SERIOUS.

2.  You will telephone, write or e-mail the NBME and explain “your side of the story.”  This will be full of admissions that will help prove the case against you and you will not even understand this.  (Please note that under U.S. law any statements you make, oral or written, can be used as evidence against you in any civil, criminal or administrative proceeding.  This is not the case with statements that your attorney makes on your behalf.)

3.  If you submit documents or statements to the NBME in support of your case, these will not be well-organized, well-labeled and in a form simple and easy to understand.  In many instances, you will not even understand the legal issues you are facing or how to refute them.

4.  You will fail to request or attend in person the hearing before the NBME Committee on Irregular Behavior (“The Committee”) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

5.  You will fail to take an attorney experienced in such medical administrative hearings to represent you at The Committee hearing in Philadelphia.

6.  You will not know how to properly present your evidence or present your own position to The Committee, if you do attend the hearing.

7.  You will not know when or what kind of witnesses, including expert witnesses, you need to use to prove issues in your case before The Committee.

8.  You will fail to understand and correctly respond to the questions that the many different Committee members (usually 15 or more) will ask you during the hearing.

9.  You will fail to correctly follow all procedures in order to preserve your rights in the proceedings.

10.  You will falsely believe that if you lose at The Committee hearing you can win on appeal or somehow sue in court and prove you are right; this is almost never correct.  You will have only one chance at proving your case and this is at The Committee hearing in Philadelphia.

11.  You will incorrectly believe that even if you are only suspended from taking the USMLE again for a short period of time, this will have no effect on your education or career.  (Note:  Your USMLE transcript will note this fact and this will probably prevent you from ever getting into a good residency program.  See #1 above.)

 

This Is a Serious Matter, Don’t Think Otherwise.

You and your family have invested tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars, on your education so that you can become a physician.  You have spent years of sacrifice and studying in order to become a physician.  This is not the time to be cheap and to think that the cost of hiring an experienced legal counsel is too high.  You could lose everything you and your family has invested in this. Do not be “penny wise and pound foolish.”  You will need professional help if you are to get through this successfully.  If you don’t care about these matters or you don’t believe this is a serious matter worthy of an investment for attorney’s fees, then go ahead and ignore this advice.

If you are not reading this until after you have lost the case and been found to have committed “irregular behavior” by the USMLE Committee on Irregular Behavior, I am sorry for you, but it is probably too late to do anything about it.

Contact Experienced Health Law Attorneys Today.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm provide legal representation to medical students, residents, interns and fellows in 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.

Comments?

Have you faced The Committee? What was the experience like? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

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.

The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999. 

Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Lehigh University Student Sues Grad School for $1.3 Million for Bad Grade

Patricia's Photos 013By George F. Indest, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

While in school, we all received grades that we believed to be unfair or unwarranted. One graduate of Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, has taken her bad grade to court. She is suing the university over a “C+” grade. In the lawsuit, the student claims that if not for a zero she was given in participation for a fieldwork class in 2009, she would have gotten a “B.” That grade would have allegedly allowed the student to move on toward finishing her master’s in counseling and human services. The student claims the one bad grade prevented her from attaining her dream to become a licensed professional counselor. Now she is suing the university for $1.3 million, according to an article in The Morning Call.

Click here to read the entire article from The Morning Call.

Was the Grade Given for Unprofessional Behavior or in Retaliation of Student’s Activism?

According to an article in The Morning Call, the student claims she received the low grade because the teacher and the then-director of the degree program conspired to hold her back. The student allegedly claims they were unhappy she had complained after being forced to find a supplemental internship partway through the semester. The student also claims the teacher was biased against her (the student’s) activism for gay and lesbian rights.

Attorneys for the university argue the grade was given to the student in an effort to help her address the skills she needed to be a licensed professional counselor. It’s stated in the complaint that the student expressed unprofessional behavior during class, including outbursts of cursing and crying.

The student ended up graduating from Lehigh University with a master’s degree in human development. She now works as a drug and alcohol counselor, according to The Morning Call. The $1.3 million she is seeking represents the alleged difference in her earnings over her career if she was instead a state-certified counselor.

Can a Judge Change a Grade?

The judge in this case questions whether he has the legal authority to actually change a grade received by a student. He has looked at cases nationally and has been unable to find one in which a judge had done so. The student’s attorney believes the judge has a wide enough latitude to impose “equitable remedies,” according to The Morning Call.

From our experience with such matters, the courts are extremely reluctant to become involved in such academic matters. Absent convincing evidence of discrimination, it is doubtful the courts will decide in the student’s favor.

Legal Ramifications of this Case.

According to an article on Huffington Post, there have been a number of students who have sued their alma maters in grading conflicts. For example, two former Texas Southern University law students filed a lawsuit in 2012 against the university’s Thurgood Marshall School of Law because they received “Ds.” The bad grades led to their dismissal for not maintaining 2.0 GPAs and put a stop to their pursuit of becoming attorneys.

Click here to read more stories of students suing their schools.

Contact a Health Care Attorney that is Experienced in the Representation of Medical Students, Interns, Residents and Applicants.

The Health Law Firm and its attorneys represent medical school students in disputes with their medical schools, internship supervisors, and in dismissal hearings. We have represented residents, interns and fellows 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 on other matters.

To learn more about our experience in the representation of medical students, click here.

To contact The Health Law Firm please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Comments?

What do you think about this case? Do you think the judiciary should be injecting itself into the academic process? How do you think this lawsuit will end? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

Yates, Riley. “Judge decides quickly after request to dismiss Lehigh lawsuit over C+ grade.” The Morning Call. (February 13, 2013). From: http://articles.mcall.com/2013-02-13/news/mc-lehigh-university-student-sues-over-grade-0213-20130213_1_carr-and-nicholas-ladany-zero-in-classroom-participation-daughter-of-lehigh-finance

Kingkade, Tyler. “Megan Thode, Lehigh University Grad, Files $1.3 Million Lawsuit Over C+ Grade.” HuffingtonPost. (February 13, 2013). From: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/13/megan-thode-lehigh-university-lawsuit_n_2671739.html?view=print&comm_ref=false

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. http://www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Students Graduating Medical School in Three Years

IMG_5281 fixedBy Danielle M. Murray, J.D.

To combat the nationwide shortage of primary care physicians and the increase in student debt, several medical schools around the country are offering the chance for students to finish school in three years, instead of four. According to a number of news articles, these programs are geared specifically toward medical students looking to practice primary care. The hope is that these programs will be cost less for students and add more primary care physicians to under-served areas.

Schools Across the U.S. Offer Three-Year Degrees.

According to an article in The New York Times, a small number of students are currently participating in the three-year degree program. There are about 16 incoming students in the program at New York University (N.Y.U.), nine students at Texas Tech Health Science Center School of Medicine and an even smaller number are at the Mercer University School of Medicine campus in Georgia. In an interview in The New York Times, the dean at Texas Tech said if this approach works, the schools will open up the program to a larger number of students.

To read the entire New York Times article, click here.

Condensed Medical School Not for Everyone.

According to an article in American Medical News, the condensed medical school eliminates breaks and electives and allows students to begin clerkship training in their second year. This is a full year earlier than the traditional four-year curriculums. In the same article, medical experts warn these accelerated programs are not for everyone, saying it takes a mature person to go through rotations earlier and at a quicker pace.

Students are given a chance to opt out if they decide to pursue a different career path. The American Medical News article explains that at Mercer, students who decide that family medicine is not for them are integrated into the traditional four-year program.

Click here to read the article from American Medical News.

Program Developed to Help with Student Debt and Doctor Shortage.

This three-year program is expected to save a quarter of the cost of medical school, which is more than $49,000 a year in tuition and fees at N.Y.U., according to The New York Times. The money saved helps primary care physicians lessen their debt as they go to work in a lower paying field. This program is expected to attract more students to practice in fields such as pediatrics and internal medicine.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the physician shortage is expected to reach 91,500 physicians by 2020. This program, as it grows, can help alleviate the shortage and bring more doctors to areas in need.

Contact a Health Care Attorney that is Experienced in the Representation of Medical Students, Interns, Residents and Applicants.

The Health Law Firm and its attorneys represent medical school students in disputes with their medical schools, internship supervisors, and in dismissal hearings. We have represented residents, interns and fellows 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 on other matters.

To contact The Health Law Firm please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Comments?

What do you think of a three-year medical school degree for doctors? Do you think the fourth year of medical school is necessary for primary care physicians? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

Hartcocollis, Anemona. “N.Y.U. and Other Medical Schools Offer Shorter Course in Training, for Less Tuition.” The New York Times. (December 23, 2012). From: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/24/education/nyu-and-others-offer-shorter-courses-through-medical-school.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Krupa, Carolyne. “Med School on the Fast Track: A 3-Year Degree.” American Medical Association. (May 7, 2012). From: http://www.ama-assn.org/amednews/2012/05/07/prl20507.htm

About the Author: Danielle M. Murray 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 Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.

Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Cheating, Irregular Behavior and Other Maladies Plaguing Future Physicians: A Two-Part Series

The road to becoming a physician is paved with many unique challenges. The uphill battle begins with rigorous undergraduate course work, followed by the MCAT and medical school applications. Upon acceptance into medical school, you are faced with the USMLE (United States Medical Licensing Examination) and its STEP 1 and STEP 2 exams. At any of these stages, a student can be accused of numerous faults including cheating, misrepresentation, falsification of information, unfair advantages and the many faces of “irregular behavior.”

On Wednesday, the challenges of a pre-med student were discussed. Today’s post focuses on the challenges imposed on a student after entering medical school.

So you made it to medical school. Congratulations! After years of slaving away in biology and chemistry labs, it is finally time to get your hands on medical textbooks. Like your work as a pre-med student, medical school courses will be rigorous and challenging, calling on every neuron you possess to fire efficiently. You will be tested, in more ways than one, and ditch the MCAT for a new acronym – USMLE (United States Medical Licensing Examination).

The USMLE is a three-step exam required for medical licensure in the United States, sponsored by the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) and the National Board of Medical Examiners® (NBME®). Most students start with Step 1 at the end of their second year of med school and take Step 2, which includes a Clinical Knowledge component (“Step 2 CK”) and a separate Clinical Skills component (“Step 2 CS”), sometime in their fourth year. Step 3 is usually taken during the first or second year of postgraduate training.

Because the USMLE is the barrier between you and your medical licensure, it is an extremely important component of your medical education. Many students prepare with a prep course or study group, but even the most knowledgeable student can encounter issues with the exams.

One such issue is being accused of “irregular behavior” during an exam. This broad label includes anything from cheating to disruptions during testing. In the event that your test is invalidated due to irregular behavior you will want to correct the situation immediately, or you may be prohibited from taking future exams (meaning you won’t be able to obtain your license).

If you are accused of irregular behavior or if you feel that you were faced with inadequate testing conditions, resolving the issue may be as simple as requesting a rescoring of the exam. Sometimes, because of problems at a test site or because of technical problems, retesting is an option.

However, more serious cases may result in a lawsuit initiated by the NBME and FSMB. In one such case, the NBME and the FSMB filed federal suit requesting an injunction and other relief against Optima University (a USMLE test prep course provider) for alleged copyright infringement. The federal complaint claimed that Optima exposed the students who attended review courses to exam questions that were improperly obtained by using examinees who recorded the tests questions. It is believed that Optima may have also paid students in Eastern European Countries to take the examinations for the purpose of copying or obtaining the questions.

Some students involved in this case were foreign medical graduates who were told that Optima would provide housing and test preparation so that they could take the USMLE. Students ended up sleeping in the New Jersey office building that hosted Optima and were also sent to Tennessee. Once in Tennessee, students were required to assist in the construction of another Optima facility. These students – who came to the United States with promises of fulfilling their American dreams to become physicians – were digging ditches for drain pipes.

Having no knowledge that were being fed actual test questions, these students took the USMLE and were flagged for irregular behavior. Although the students were permitted to retake the exam, the situation left the students with a negative reputation with the NBME. Read more about the case here.

After years of schooling, don’t allow allegations of cheating to prevent you from reaping the benefits of your hard work. For more information visit www.TheHealthLawFirm.com or read this article concerning USMLE and ECFMG challenges and representaion.

Cheating, Irregular Behavior and Other Maladies Plaguing Future Physicians: A Two-Part Series

The road to becoming a physician is paved with many unique challenges. The uphill battle begins with rigorous undergraduate course work, followed by the MCAT and medical school applications. Upon acceptance into medical school, the USMLE (United States Medical Licensing Examination) and its STEP 1 and STEP 2 exams provide another hurdle. At any of these stages, a student can be accused of numerous faults including cheating, misrepresentation, falsification of information, unfair advantages and the many faces of “irregular behavior.”

Today’s post focuses on the challenges imposed on a student prior to entering medical school. On Friday, the implications of various forms of “misconduct” for med students will be dissected (including USMLE irregular behavior and the case of NBME and FSMB v. Optima University LLC).

Prior to medical school, pre-med students must be ambitious, inquisitive and extra cautious about any disciplinary action. A minor blemish on a pre-med student’s academic record (from academic dishonesty or other accusations), will become a major red flag once that student begins the process of applying to med school. Not only will any kind of discipline record hinder a student’s chances of acceptance into med school, an infraction can also ruin that student’s reputation as they apply for residency and beyond.

Because the process of becoming a physician is difficult without having a discipline record, any  charge against a pre-med student must be taken with the upmost seriousness. If a student is accused of any kind of inflammatory behavior (cheating, academic dishonesty, plagiarizing, misrepresentation of information, falsification of information, etc.) that student needs to immediately try to correct the accusation. If a professor or another student is responsible for the accusation, the accused can try to fix the situation by meeting with the accuser before it advances. However, if this fails and the complaint is taken to a higher administration, it is best for the student to consult a legal expert who can represent them in front of an academic committee.

Often, these cases can be resolved informally,through negotiation or mediation. However, occasionally it is necessary that a civil suit be filed against the school, in order to protect the reputation of the student and prevent retaliation. The student must discuss what legal route will work best for their case in order to have the best chances of a positive outcome.

If a pre-med student makes it through undergrad without any kind of discipline record, there is still a chance that something could go wrong during the MCAT, leading to an investigation by the AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges).

In the event that a student is accused of cheating on the MCAT or disruptive behavior during the test administration resulted in a voided test, it is best for the student to seek legal representation. If a student takes no action, or fails to correct the situation independently, they may be banned from taking the MCAT and have no chance of entering medical school.

After surpassing each obstacle on the way to med school acceptance, students may still be presented with a challenge during the admissions process. Students attempting to be admitted to medical school who are wrongfully denied for various reasons, need to seek legal advice. In one case, a student who was a whistle blower found himself being the subject of retaliation by a medical school professor for whom he had worked in college. After seeking legal counsel, this student was successful in countering the retaliation of the medical school professor and was admitted to the medical school of his choice.

Becoming a physician may be challenging, but the results can be rewarding and worth any sacrifices. A clean slate during your days as a pre-med student will pay off during your medical school admissions cycle and beyond. For more information visit www.TheHealthLawFirm.com or read this article concerning Education Law.