Practice Development for Medical Expert Witnesses
Beryl Vaughan, Consultant
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or Call (415) 302-9589
Do I have to be Board-Certified in a medical forensic specialty?
How do I become Board-Certified if my specialty doesn’t have forensic training?
Is it even necessary?
If you are not Board-Certified in a forensic subspecialty, you should consider it, if the option is available.
If there is no option, you still have resources, described below. Continuing Education is suggested and there are useful programs for medical-legal experts.
If you are a Psychiatrist, Psychologist or Pathologist, there is a pathway to Board-Certification in a forensic subspecialty.
If you are a medical specialist in another field: Continuing Education
Continuing education is the key to improving your medical-legal skills and training in a medical specialty other than the dedicated track for Psychiatrists and Pathologists. Most medical specialties have no ABMS-approved Board-Certification dedicated to medical-legal matters (to my knowledge.) That doesn’t mean you can’t be an Expert Witness. To improve your skills, choose continuing your education privately and focus on skills necessary to your forensic practice. I go into some detail below with links.
Board-Certification in your medical Specialty is always recommended.
Stay in your lane
Any Expert Witness must be qualified to render an opinion in their own medical specialty. Board-Certification in a field unrelated to the question before you is a crucial distinction. E.g., a Cardiologist is not qualified to opine about Neurosurgery. A Psychologist is not qualified to read and interpret radiology reports. You can be disqualified as an Expert in such cases, a decision made by a Judge prior to trial.
Additional training is always useful to provide your opinions to attorneys who must digest medical information in a legal context.
Education applicable to expert witness work
Continuing education is a part of professional life. Seek CME that addresses medical-legal matters. Pursue training in writing medical legal reports, webinars and programs for attorneys to meet their Continuing Legal Education requirements. Consider training that has no CME benefit for you but will help you learn about medical-legal work. These provide more layers of training that improve your skills and reputation with attorneys.
It may not be as hard as you think.
From the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law:
- American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN) requirements
- Qualifying Fellowships that are being offered and which have openings for 2018
Per the ABPN the primary requirement is “…successful completion of one year of ACGME-accredited fellowship training in forensic psychiatry……may be completed on a part-time basis as long as it is not less than half time; credit is not given for periods of training lasting less than one year except under special circumstances that must be approved by the ABPN Credentials Committee.” There are other requirements and exclusions, and the certification examination. The ABPN site is the best source for this information, not me. Note: the ForensicExpertPro website contains information for those Board Certified in their primary specialty, (general) Psychiatry or Psychology. I have limited experience with experts in satellite or adjunct fields.
The American Board of Professional Psychology offers Board-Certification in Forensic Psychology. Fewer than 400 psychologists hold this Board-Certification providing them with a unique credential with few alternatives for attorneys seeking a high degree of qualification. The general requirements are, per the ABPP’s website:
“1. Satisfactory completion of the credential review process, written examination, oral examination, and vote by the Board to accept the candidate into membership; and
“2. Absence of prior conduct by the candidate that in the opinion of the Board indicates serious ethical misconduct or unlawful behavior incompatible with the standards of high competence expected for board certification.
“The Candidate also has an affirmative duty to notify the Board during the pendency of his or her candidacy if allegations of serious ethical misconduct or unlawful behavior have been lodged against the Candidate.”
Medical Specialists in other fields
Few organizations offer forensic training to any medical specialist or even have a Board recognized training option. Let’s set Pathology aside, since it is its own animal. Here are some ideas.
- The American Academy of Psychiatry and Law provides education not exclusive to psychiatry. Regardless of your specialty you can attend the AAPL annual Conference and, even more importantly, the Review Course that precedes every October conference. In this program, you learn abut relevant case law, report writing guidelines and more. Learn more about the 2022 program.
- Other organizations like the Forensic Expert Witness Association or the American Academy of Forensic Sciences may provide relevant education. Search “forensic training” online and you will see some of these programs. Some are less reputable or you may obtain the training but not include it in your CV if it is of unknown reputation.
- Read. Research and published material.
- Get any training you can in application of your medical specialty to legal matters. It will help. Question what you learn. Seek training about writing reports, relevant laws that impact what you can and cannot say, the legal role of an expert witness, the distinction between expert witness and consultant and other essential and nuanced curriculum. BE WARY of training offered as part of a paid package by a private company that sells the expert in a listing or service. These programs are a profit source that may not be held to a standard of education on which you can and should rely. If you are considering a service, contact me so we can discuss if the company’s reputation is appropriate. Seek reputable programs affiliated with reputable schools. What you learn may not guide you step by step in your work, but you may very likely learn what questions to ask when considering a medical-legal matter in which you have been asked to opine.
The attorney who has retained you should advise you about legal implications in the nature of your testimony. They know the law in their state and, unlike you, are trained in interpreting the law. The attorney can be an excellent source of answers to your questions.
The most common question I hear is “do I have to be licensed in the state where the case is heard.” This answer is different among different states. The attorney, not you, has the obligation to inform you if that is the case. If s/he does not know, it is incumbent on them, not you, to find out. They have the most to lose if opposing counsel disqualifies you on this point. FYI, very few states require a medical expert be licensed in their state. It is not up to you to know which.
Overview, not comprehensive answers
This article/answer is an overview. I am not a specialist in training or education but in my work with doctors I have found not all training is equal. Serving as an expert witness puts you in a position where your credentials and skill are always relevant.