The California Medical Board takes alcohol abuse and Driving Under the Influence (DUI)convictions seriously. The most common DUI administrative charge for doctors in California is violation of Business and Professions Code Section 2239. Section 2239 proscribes the "Excessive Use of Drugs or Alcohol." Under Section 2239, the use of alcoholic beverages, "to the extent, or in such a manner as to be dangerous or injurious to the license, or to any other person or the public, or to the extent that such use impairs the ability of the licensee to practice medicine safely. . .constitutes unprofessional conduct."
While this broad language could theoretically be applied to the use of alcohol in virtually any setting and is not limited to specific circumstances that might affect a physician's ability to practice medicine safely, the Board by policy has to this point indicated it will not file an accusation charging violation of Code Section 2239 on a single misdemeanor conviction for DUI unless there are other, additional indications of alcohol abuse that suggest a problem with the physician's ability to practice safely.
Section 2239 specifically states that "more than one misdemeanor or any felony involving the use, consumption, or self-administration of any of the substances referred to in this section, or any combination thereof, constitutes unprofessional conduct." (is subject to disciplinary action).
Section 490 of the California Business and Professions Code also provides that conviction of a crime "substantially related to the qualifications, functions, or duties of the business or profession for which the license was issued" is grounds for discipline. Section 492 provides further that completion of drug diversion or alcohol problem assessment programs ". . .shall not prohibit any agency. . . from taking disciplinary action against a licensee or from denying a license for professional misconduct, notwithstanding that evidence of that misconduct may be recorded in a record pertaining to an arrest."
Section 492 means that completing a court based diversion or alcohol abuse assessment program does not prevent disciplinary action by the state licensing board, charging violation of Business and Professions Code sections 2239, 490 or even 2234 (general "unprofessional conduct"). (It is not uncommon for the Medical Board to charge unprofessional conduct under Section 2234 for a second DUI offense in addition to violation of Section 2239).
Physicians and other healthcare licensees should always be aware that drinking alcohol excessively can have serious adverse consequences on their professional lives, even if it does not involve driving but comes to the attention of their licensing board. California's healthcare licensing boards in recent years have been particularly inflexible and adamant in their attempts to impose discipline for alcohol related conduct. Licensees should therefore keep this in mind and consider having a designated driver when socializing with alcohol in order to avoid unforseen problems with state licensing agencies that can have serious adverse effects on their professional lives and income.
Given the potential for permanent damage to a medical career, legal representation with an attorney experienced in licensing board policy and law early on with respect to alcohol-related charges or investigations is advisable.
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