WASHINGTON – Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist will probably be fined and have to make up for failing to do continuing medical education that Tennessee requires of doctors with active licenses.
Additional disciplinary action, such as suspending his medical license, is unlikely, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Health said Wednesday.
Spokeswoman Andrea Turner said Frist, a prominent heart-lung surgeon before coming to the Senate in 1995, is expected to be fined $40 for every hour of continuing education he did not complete. He also will have to make up the missed hours of continuing education within the next six months and do an extra 10 penalty hours within the year, she said.
"Disciplinary action when you don't meet the requirements is always a possibility. However, I don't feel the possibility is substantial," she said.
Frist spokesman Matt Lehigh did not comment Wednesday on what the board might do, saying only, "Dr. Frist remains committed to working diligently with the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners to comply."
In a license renewal form filed with the board earlier this year, Frist certified he had met the state's continuing education requirement — 40 hours over the previous two years.
In response to several inquiries from The Associated Press, however, the Tennessee Republican acknowledged Tuesday that he had not done all the work.
Turner said a Frist representative contacted the board on Tuesday to report the situation, and the board's medical director received a letter from Frist lawyer C.J. Gideon Jr. on Wednesday.
The letter, provided to The Associated Press by the Tennessee Health Department, acknowledges "a probable shortfall" in Frist's continuing education hours and states that Frist "has not been engaged in the active practice of medicine" for many years.
It also states that the renewal application was signed by a Frist representative who was "apparently unaware" of the continuing education requirement.
Turner said there is no rule preventing physicians from letting others sign license renewal applications. "But, in this case, the medical doctor is held accountable," she said.
Tennessee officials put the continuing medical education requirement in place in 2002. Starting with renewal applications filed in January 2005, the state required doctors to have completed the 40 hours of continuing education in the two years preceding their filing.
Turner said the information about the rule change was sent to doctors in a newsletter mailed to them several times between 2001 to 2005.
"Typically with board implementation of a new continuing education policy, the board works with licensees and allows them time to comply rather than take immediate disciplinary action," Turner said.
She said Frist is being treated "as we would treat anyone else in this situation."
In Tennessee, the governor appoints the members of the Board of Medical Examiners. Gov. Phil Bredesen is a Democrat.
Frist is retiring from the Senate at the end of the year to consider a presidential run. Though he doesn't maintain a medical practice, Frist routinely emphasizes his experience as a doctor.
This summer, he wrote an opinion piece calling for stepped-up use of information technology in the medical field. Frist went on to write that its use "needs to become a part of continuing medical education for every physician in the country."