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California psychiatrist's license put on probation

What sort of thing do you think might result in a psychiatrist's license being put on a six-year probation? An consensual affair with a patient? Overlooking obvious signs that a patient is suicidal? Disclosing a patient's personal information in violation of the law?

How about crashing a car while on a cocktail of drugs? That's the reason that one psychiatrist in California will be supervised for the next six years -- his license hanging by a thread to prevent any further bad behavior.

The punishment is the result of a four-year ethics investigation after the 2014 accident in which the psychiatrist crashed his Jaguar after going on a drug run for some cocaine. In addition, he admitted to the police officers who responded to the scene that he was also on Valium and Oxycontin. When officers searched the car, they also found the cocaine he'd purchased, plus vials of pills in unlabeled bottles.

Eventually, he took a plea deal in exchange for probation for three years, some community service and attendance at a first-offender's program. However, the medical board wasn't quite as forgiving as the criminal court.

The board couldn't overlook the doctor's ethical violations, including using alcohol in a dangerous manner, medicating himself, violating drug laws and generally being unprofessional. His conviction only added to his woes. Initially, the medical board actually revoked his license altogether, then stayed the order to give the psychiatrist a chance to prove himself.

During that probation period, the doctor's work will be monitored, he must finish an ethics course, obey the law, and forgo both alcohol and drugs. He will also be required to undergo drug testing, inform others in his workforce that he is under discipline measures by the board, file quarterly progress reports and meet a few other conditions. If he fails, even in a minor way, he could be subject to fines, a diagnostic evaluation, a letter of warning, tighter limits on his ability to practice, tighter supervision and an order to stop practicing -- at the medical board's discretion.

Although the punishment seems extreme, it does show that medical board's willingness to allow physicians to redeem themselves from rather serious offenses -- something that should give others some hope that they will be able to keep their medical license after even a big mistake.

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