The California Medical Board’s Diversion Program ended June 30, 2008, bringing to a close an important option for getting physicians treatment for substance abuse without creating a record of public discipline that leaves most careers in ruins.

For those physicians who remained in the Diversion Program as of June 30th, they were placed into two groups: those who would be discharged early from Diversion thanks to their success, and those who would remain “in diversion” supervised by the enforcement arm of the Medical Board of California. For new cases, the Diversion option no longer exists.

The California Medical Board’s Diversion Program could never adequately satisfy the concerns of its critics. A certain portion of the community felt that the program helped shield addicted physicians from public discipline thereby putting the public at risk. On the other hand, the Diversion Program’s resources were so limited that some participants received inadequate treatment and supervision for their addiction, which would lead to positive drug tests and other violations. Such violations created a predicament for the program, because the program was, by its very nature, designed to treat addicted physicians and not to throw them to the wolves by sending them off for formal Board discipline. Nevertheless, the program had to draw the line and punish some physicians with formal discipline. In summary, the program was too lax for some, inadequate for others, and for some others fundamentally punitive in nature, contradicting its stated mission.

California physicians now must proactively seek confidential help for their addictions. Once the Board is involved, the Board, by its mandate, must “protect” the general public by seeking public discipline if warranted. Such disciplinary actions can be career-ending. A physician’s career, as seen through the eyes of this licensing attorney, is a house of cards, those cards being a myriad of licenses, certifications and privileges from boards, hospitals, associations and insurers. One black mark can place each and every license, certification and privilege in jeopardy.

It is, therefore, absolutely critical that physicians who struggle with drug or alcohol addiction, or other mental illness, swiftly and privately seek help. There are several nationally prominent addiction treatment programs, including Hazelden Springbrook in Newberg, Oregon, and the Farley Center at Williamsburg Place in Virginia, which specialize in the treatment of physicians. Locally in southern California, Cornerstone of Southern California is a well-established and prominent program which treats professionals for drug and alcohol addictions. In this post-diversion era, a physician who wants to salvage their career by privately seeking treatment must seek effective treatment through one of these programs without delay.