In any complex medical-legal case, the testimony of an experienced expert witness is necessary. A medical expert witness is qualified by their own expertise, knowledge and level of experience to give an independent and defensible opinion on a specific medical-legal issue in court. If you’re thinking of how to become a medical expert witness, it’s important to understand the requirements of becoming one, and that comes down to two main categories:
- The legal requirements for becoming an expert witness
- The practical requirements of becoming an expert witness
Before we discuss expert witness qualifications, we’re going to discuss a few things related to medical expert witnesses, including their roles, who can become an expert witness, qualification requirements, professional conduct issues, where an expert witness’s opinion can be applied and questions to consider before taking an expert witness case.
What is the Role of a Medical Expert Witness?
A medical expert witness examines the material facts of a medical-related case, such as a claimant’s medical records and lays witness testimony. He or she also prepares written statements, creates models, prepares written reports and, of course, provides medical expert testimony before the court. The expert witness should be able to break down the technicalities, scientific terminology and medical complexities in a case, so that anyone without medical training can understand the key aspects of the case.
It’s the role of an expert witness to provide the hard facts in a case. Keep in mind that a medical expert witness is not the treating doctor. While their independent and objective opinion is provided at the request of either party involved in a medical-legal claim, their key role is to assist the court rather than the party who hires them. Any opinion, comments or reports given by a medical expert witness must be credible, defensible, objective and unbiased. Their opinion helps the court decide the matter brought before it.
As part of understanding how to become a medical expert witness, it’s important to know that expert witness roles can range, from offering opinions on liability and causation issues, considering a breach of duty in a clinical negligence claim or to examine a claimant and discuss issues like their treatment and what could be offered. A medical expert witness is not the same as a professional witness. The former offers independent expert medical opinion on a case, while the latter is requested to provide testimony solely on the observed facts of a case.
Who can Be a Medical Expert Witness?
Qualified and experienced doctors can opt to become medical expert witnesses. The most common way for doctors to become expert witnesses is by promoting their expertise in a specific medical discipline by registering with organizations that maintain large expert witness databases. There are a number of these expert witness networks, and each one has its own eligibility rules and requirements for joining their network of medical expert witnesses.
Expert Witness Qualifications
To qualify as a professional medical expert witness, you should have a current, valid and unrestricted license to practice medicine in your area of expertise. You should also be board-certified in a specific medical specialty and hold equivalent specialist expert witness qualifications. Medical expert witnesses are also expected to have been in active practice in their clinical their area of specialty and have relevant clinical knowledge and industry experience in the medical practice areas that are subject of the court proceeding.
According to the Federal Rule of Evidence 702 on how to become a medical expert witness, one needs to have knowledge, skill, experience, training or education, which will help a court understand the evidence presented in a medical-legal case or to determine a fact in issue. Apart from this legal requirement for becoming a medical expert witness, there are a few practical requirements for providing medical expert witness services:
- Demand for your areas of expertise
- The ability to always meet and beat deadlines. Litigation cases are deadline-driven.
- Commitment to excellence and a competitive spirit
- No license revocations, criminal convictions, controversial past writings or poor judgement
- Having a flexible schedule to allow for trial appearances and depositions
- Having an employer who allows you to offer expert witness services
- Good written and verbal communication skills
- A complete CV so that the retaining counsel can review your professional qualifications
- A detailed fee schedule, or an expert witness contract
- Excellent organizational, research and investigative skills
Expert Witness Ethical Guidelines
One of the most critical aspects of understanding how to become a medical expert witness is being familiar with the professional ethics of being a medical expert witness. Below are some of the most critical expert witness ethical guidelines that anyone who wants to become a medical expert witness should know:
- A medical expert witness’s review of medical facts and opinions should be truthful, impartial and thorough. There should absolutely be no information or views favoring either the defendant or the plaintiff.
- The expert witness’s testimony should reflect the latest and proven scientific evidence and accepted practice standards prevalent at the time of the medical-legal case in question.
- The medical expert witness should be able to clearly distinct between medical malpractice and potential and adverse outcomes that are not related or connected to negligent medical practice.
- The medical expert witness should by all means make an effort to thoroughly assess and investigate whether the alleged substandard medical practice was in any way related to the adverse outcome.
- The medical expert witness fee for medical expert witness testimony should directly relate to the time spent on the case and should be in no way contingent upon the outcome of the medical-legal claim.
- The medical expert witness should be willing to submit such testimony for review.
Where can the Opinion of a Medical Expert Witness be Useful?
The opinion of a qualified medical expert witness can be useful in a wide variety of cases such as medical malpractice, personal injury, disability claims, wrongful death, forensic psychiatric determinations, workers’ compensation among others. The list of medical professionals that could serve as medical expert witnesses is endless. Expert witness networks often comprise of highly-specialized experts in different fields of medicine.
These include neurology, orthopedic surgery, internal medicine, pain management, psychology, psychiatry, radiology, rheumatology, neurosurgery, pathology and others. If you’re wondering how to become a medical expert witness, anyone with specialized training in any field of medicine that is in demand in medical litigation cases can join an expert witness network.
Questions to Consider When Taking a Case as a Medical Expert Witness?
There are salutary lessons to learn for all medical expert witnesses or those who want to offer expert witness services. Medical expert witnesses must recognize their duty to the court and the overriding administration of justice. They must also provide independent opinion and evidence within the limits of their expert witness qualifications and competence, keep up-to-date with their specialist area of practice, take appropriate action in case their opinion changes and also explain, where appropriate, where there are a range of views on a particular issue.
If you’re considering taking a case as a medical expert witness, you need to ask yourself a few questions:
- What type of medical-legal case is it?
- On whose behalf are you handling the case?
- Has the fee scale been agreed?
- Are you a qualified expert in this area?
- What are the implications for you in case the court doesn’t accept your evidence?
Become a Medical Expert Witness at AES
Wondering how to become a medical expert witness? Join our talented team of medical expert witnesses at Arrowhead Evaluation Services. As one of the leading providers of expert witness and independent medical evaluation (IME) services in California, we invite you to learn more about our experienced and board-certified panel of medical examiners and expert witness at our website. Feel free to schedule an evaluation appointment with us today.