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The ‘disruptive physician’ — a label that can ruin a career

On Behalf of | Dec 5, 2018 | Receiving And Maintaining Professional Licenses |

When does a physician simply have high expectations of other medical professionals and when is he or she “disruptive?”

A disruptive physician is any doctor who doesn’t really work well with others. When a physician is purposefully intimidating to others, patients can suffer because good patient care relies on teamwork and communication between professionals in any medical environment.

Naturally, health care organizations — and the medical board — are interested in promoting a culture of safety. However, there’s a big difference between truly disruptive behavior and a physician that is just somewhat unlikeable because of his or her exacting standards.

For example, here are some examples of disruptive behavior that ended up provoking both criminal charges and actions from the California medical review board:

  • A physician who was being subjected to peer review keyed the cars of a hospital’s administration.
  • A surgeon purposefully cut his assistant’s hand with a scalpel.
  • Another physician threw instruments around an operating room after growing irate at a young resident.
  • One surgeon responded to a comment by a scrub nurse by flinging blood on her during the surgery.

When a doctor’s actions are extreme enough, they may result in criminal charges — which the review board lumps under “unprofessional behavior” in order to discipline. However, the board has another tool in its arsenal when allegations are made that a doctor is disruptive: a forced mental evaluation.

Section 820 of the Business and Professions Code allows the board to compel a physician to submit to an examination any time there are questions about the physician’s ability to practice “safely.”

In theory, that’s a good thing. In practice, however, a doctor could be labeled “disruptive” for acts like:

  • Refusing to give in to a patient’s drug-seeking behavior to appease other members of the staff who just want to get the patient back out the door
  • Refusing to agree to unnecessary (and highly expensive) testing on patients to boost revenue
  • Angering a group of nurses with his or her standards or perceived rudeness

If you’re facing allegations that you’re a disruptive physician, don’t take them lightly. No matter how unfounded the allegations may be, your license could be at stake. It may be most advisable to discuss your strategy for protecting your professional license with an experienced attorney.


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