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.
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.
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