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Can a medical board penalize a doctor for not wearing a mask?

A recent case involved a physician who refused to enforce mask-wearing in a rural clinic. A local news station videotaped the physician at a rally stating that neither “he nor his staff would wear masks” when working. This was true even for those who experienced COVID-19 symptoms.

In response, his local medical board suspended his license. He is not allowed to practice medicine until after the state’s public health emergency. Granted, this is a rather extreme case. There is evidence the physician even refused to see patients who chose to wear masks. But it raises an important question: can medical boards penalize a doctor for not wearing a mask?

Step #1: It depends on the state.

The Texas Medical Board (TMB) adopted a rule that expanded the state’s definition for “unprofessional and dishonorable conduct.” The TMB expanded the phrase to include a failure to wear a mask during the pandemic, a failure to properly screen for COVID-19 among physicians and patients as well as the need for increased protection when providing care involving the mucous membranes such as the respiratory tract. The TMB can impose penalties if it finds a physician has conducted themselves in an unprofessional and dishonorable manner, effectively expanding their power to potentially penalize those who choose not to wear masks in these situations.

Step #2: You can fight back.

Physicians who face a reprimand from the TMB can fight back. Their decision is not final. You can defend yourself during the initial hearing and appeal the decision. The best way to build a successful defense will depend on the details of the allegations.