Case success: residency termination

Grubaugh Law recently defended a client at a residency termination hearing. For those who are not aware, medical residents may be kicked out of their educational program for academic performance issues or misconduct. They face very limited procedural rights when defending against termination.

In the case that Grubaugh Law handled, a resident out of Walter Reed Hospital was accused of performance deficiencies and integrity violations. The case was referred to us due to our experience defending servicemembers in military separation proceedings. While many of the principles of litigating separations applied, there was a steep learning curve when it came to the medical aspects of the case.

One early resource to overcome that learning curve was Residency Rehab, a website dedicated to helping residents facing termination proceedings. There were many other great resources, like this chapter; and people offering to help share their medical knowledge, such as a former director of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Walter Reed Hospital. One thing we pride ourselves in at Grubaugh Law is a willingness to admit where we need help, then actively seeking it out. One of the things we learned from these sources is that very few residents win these hearings. The faculty almost always succeeds in terminating the resident.

With our case, the program director at Walter Reed initiated termination proceedings because he argued the resident failed to provide a patient the appropriate standard of care. When the resident was confronted about it, she allegedly lied to superiors. Additionally, the termination notice cited to multiple performance issues in the past, as well as another instance of an integrity violation.

The panel conducting the termination proceeding was staffed by attending physicians and residents from other programs at Walter Reed Hospital. At these hearings, the attorney for the resident is not allowed to speak. So most of the work is done in drafting a memorandum that is provided ahead of time to the committee. This work-product is the best and most important opportunity the litigator has to shape the case in the most beneficial way for the resident.

At our hearing, the resident presented her statement and answered questions consistent with these preparation principles. We were able to convince the committee termination was inappropriate in these circumstances, as her program was blowing minor deficiencies out-of-proportion and that the termination proceedings had the appearance of retaliation, since she made a complaint of a hostile work environment.

One last note, this case was also an example of a great client/attorney partnership. The client was a hard-charging officer who of had many ideas of her own on how to litigate the case. Too often, attorneys blow off ideas and comments from their clients as they seek total control over the litigation. Certainly, the attorney has final say how to litigate most matters and often needs to draw a hard line in the sand even in the face of a client’s disagreement. But an attorney must also check their pride, recognize where the client is making a good point, and adjust accordingly.

Overall, a great result and we are very happy for the client.

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