People place a lot of trust in their doctors. Their extensive medical training means that they have spent a great deal of time and effort learning how to treat people. In most cases, we can rely on their expertise and knowledge.
Unfortunately, that is not always the case with every doctor. There are those who make numerous medical errors and perhaps never should have obtained licenses to practice medicine in the first place. What's worse is that many physicians who surrender their licenses in one state can often move to another state and continue to treat patients.
Reasons a doctor would surrender a medical license
A doctor might decide to give up his or her license to practice medicine when there is a great deal of evidence that suggests unprofessional conduct. For example, one doctor removed a patient's fallopian tube, believing that he was taking out her appendix, despite the fact that she no longer had an appendix. He botched another surgery on her and decided to give up his license rather than deal with state sanctions. Other examples of unprofessional conduct include improper prescriptions, having sexual relationships with patients or surgical errors.
A doctor who refuses to give up his or her medical license faces an uphill battle. Fighting to keep a medical license costs time and money as well as potential damage to the physician's reputation. The doctor in question has to defend against formal charges in a hearing before a state medical board. Surrendering a medical license is much easier.
Surrendering a medical license does not yield many consequences
If a doctor surrenders his or her license, it generally does not prevent that doctor from obtaining a license in another state. Though the National Practitioner Data Bank exists, not many states make use of it. The NPDB records malpractice payments, any state disciplinary action and restrictions against specific physicians. The public cannot access the data bank, but even medical boards that could utilize it to pinpoint problems often do not.
Even when a physician undergoes disciplinary action from a medical board or another governing body, the public may not know about it. Some experts even say that just because a doctor surrendered his or her license after disciplinary action, future malpractice by that same physician can result in less severe discipline by another state. Some states may record an event of unprofessional conduct in a doctor's record but not specify exactly what occurred.
What defenders of doctors have to say
Advocates say it protects doctors who may have made past mistakes but are now trying to live a better life. For example, some doctors who have issues with substance abuse seek out treatment and eventually go on to practice again. Defenders also claim that the medical industry has more regulations in place than most other areas of work. Further, the process of terminating a doctor's license can be very costly for a hospital. Many rural areas cannot afford using the external peer reviewer, hearing officer and attorney that are required.
You can protect yourself
In spite of all of these warnings, there are ways for you and your loved ones to protect yourselves. You can check the websites of New Jersey's State Medical Board to see if your doctor has any records of unprofessional conduct. Be sure to check the websites of medical boards in other states if your doctor once practiced medicine somewhere else. The Federation of State Medical Boards operates a national clearinghouse of state medical boards that you can check to see if there are any records of your doctor there.