As a pharmacist, you are a critical part of the chain of health care delivery. You have an essential role in ensuring that people get the care they need. However, that importance comes with oversight. Every state, including New York, has a disciplinary board that regulates and distributes pharmacist licenses. This board has the power to launch investigations into the conduct of pharmacists who hold licenses in that state. This gives them an enormous amount of power. You need to take this seriously, because an investigation can jeopardize your career as a pharmacist. You need to know what this board will examine, what can trigger an investigation, and the penalties the board can impose. A lawyer can help you protect your license, but if you delay contacting one, then you are at greater risk.
The board looks at more than just your professional conduct, although that is its primary area of focus. It can also investigate your personal life, your financial history, and more. The wide range of these investigations means you need to take care in every area of your life to avoid events and actions that can attract the board’s attention. Some of them will be more germane than others, but the potential outcomes from an investigation include losing your license permanently, so you need to treat every risk as important. The reason the board investigates so widely is that they are trying to prevent any serious problem with care delivery, such as something that could lead to a malpractice suit or a negative impact on a patient. As a result, they try to gather information about your personality to determine if you are likely to commit such a mistake.
First of all, consider your financial state. If you are a person who has trouble keeping up with your personal finances, then the board could consider this grounds for an investigation. Pharmacists who take out student loans are at risk, because defaulting on those loans is one of the things the board considers financial misconduct. Other examples include bankruptcy and summary judgments. Financial and legal relationships, like child support obligations, are also potential sources of investigations. As a pharmacist, you need to know that these things could bring on investigations even though they have little to do with your day to day work. Junior pharmacists fresh out of school need to be especially vigilant because their debts are higher and their incomes are lower than later on in their careers.
Next, think about your personal life. There are many aspects of your personal life that can lead to investigations if you do not handle them carefully. Any interaction you have with drugs or alcohol has the potential to bring on an investigation if anything happens, such as a car accident or a confrontation with someone else. This is especially dangerous if the drugs are illegal. Any relationship problems, from arguments up to divorce and restraining orders at the top end, are potential red flags to the state board. It is unfortunate that something so private is in play for disciplinary investigations, but boards use these as evidence that your personality might not be a good fit for the profession. If you make threats or other negative statements over electronic communication, the phone, or any other medium, that is another problem spot. Any conviction of any crime, or even becoming the target of criminal charges, is enough to draw the attention of the board. In one sense, this is understandable. Pharmacists have access to highly sensitive drugs and material, as well as the private health information of their customers, so they need to be discreet and law-abiding citizens. But this means your entire personal life is potentially on trial.
Of course, your professional and volunteer work in your capacity as a pharmacist are prime areas of scrutiny. The board will examine your performance very carefully. Any kind of irregularities that lead to negative health consequences for patients, missing inventory, spotty attendance, or anything else that impacts your performance is a red flag. The worst cases can lead to charges for malpractice or negligence, but a problem need not rise to that level for the board to become involved. Indeed, they are likely to respond to almost any complaint they receive about your work. Keep this in mind whenever you do anything that draws on your knowledge, like teach or give advice. Anything you say or do can and will be used against you if it leads to a complaint. The state board in New York has very little tolerance for any slip-ups due to the importance of pharmacy work. The margin for error is slim indeed.
As for what kind of penalties a board can impose as a result of the investigation, they range from a warning all the way up to a permanent revocation of your license. The revocation is the worst-case scenario and demands the strongest response if you want to get your license back. You will need to wait a minimum of three years before you can even apply to be reinstated. During that time, you must show the board that you can prevent the original incident from ever happening again by learning from your mistake and correcting the lapse that created it. You also need to retain your knowledge so that you remain an effective pharmacist. On top of that, you need to show remorse and not argue that the board’s original decision was wrong. After all of this, you are still far from guaranteed to get your license back.
One of the trickiest parts of this process is the fact that investigations or a termination in one state is likely to trigger investigations in any other state in which you hold a license. That means you cannot simply move to a different state and practice there, or apply for a new license somewhere else. The boards all share information with each other. The mere fact of being investigated jeopardizes your position with every state board, both now and in the future. One mistake could compromise your ability to practice anywhere.
All of these things point to one fact– you absolutely must have an advocate. In this case, you need an experienced and knowledgeable pharmacist license defense lawyer. The earlier you talk to one, the better chance you will stand at keeping your license. They will work on your behalf and help you protect your ability to practice.
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