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[Guide] How to Become a Medical Malpractice Expert Witness

Most physicians already have all of the knowledge, education, training, and experience practicing in the field to become medical malpractice expert witnesses in cases that touch upon their area of expertise. However, the same set of skills that makes you an incredible doctor aren’t the same ones that are necessary for entrepreneurial success, so taking the leap into picking up this lucrative work can be quite difficult for many physicians.

Acting as a medical expert witness has the potential to pay more than clinical work and even help you become a better clinician for your patients. If you’re toying around with different ways you can earn additional income, becoming a medical malpractice expert witness is likely an appealing option because getting into this line of work has very low start-up costs and low overhead. Beyond that, much of the work can be done from the comfort of your own home.

What Is the Role of a Medical Malpractice Expert Witness?

In all but the most straightforward medical-legal cases, expert witnesses will be needed to offer testimony. These experts can offer an independent and defensible opinion thanks to their knowledge, experience, and expertise in specific issues in a case.

As a medical malpractice expert witness, it would be your role to examine a case’s material facts, create models, prepare written statements, and provide medical expert testimony. All of the complexities, technicalities, and scientific terminology should be explained to the court in a way that non-experts can understand the most vital parts of the case.

These experts appear to assist the court, not to help the particular party that commissioned them to appear. Medical malpractice expert witnesses must be able to offer objective, unbiased, defensible, and credible comments, reports, and opinions.

A Medical Malpractice Expert Witness Providing Testimony

There is a sizable range of topics and duties that a medical malpractice expert witness might deal with during the course of a particular trial– potentially involving everything from examining a claimant and offering an opinion on their treatment to discussing causation and liability issues.

It’s worth noting that there is a difference between a medical expert witness and a professional witness. Professional witnesses are asked to provide testimony based only on the case’s observed facts, while a medical expert witness is present to offer an independent medical opinion.

Remember, medical malpractice cases hinge on whether or not the individual or entity that is being sued for malpractice breached the standard of care. Essentially, a medical malpractice expert witness might provide their opinion, among other things, regarding whether or not the individual acted with care in the same way the average person would in the exact same circumstances. 

If the idea of testifying in court or attending depositions isn’t appealing to you, but you are interested in being involved in medical malpractice cases, take a look at my guide to how to become a medical-legal consultant.

What Qualifications Are Necessary to Become a Medical Expert Witness?

There are two broad categories of qualifications that you will want to consider if you’re thinking about becoming a medical expert witness of any kind. These are:

  • The legal requirements, and
  • The practical requirements

In the next section, we’ll take a closer look at the types of legal requirements that might be outlined in a state’s legal code. In general, though, you will need to have a current, valid, and unrestricted license to practice medicine in your area of specialty. You will also need to be board-certified in your area of expertise and have experience in active practice, industry experience, and relevant clinical knowledge in relevant medical malpractice cases.

Doctors Reviewing Necessary Qualifications

The role of a medical expert witness in any legal proceeding is to help a court gain a greater understanding of the evidence that is presented or to help determine a fact through their experience, education, training, skills, or knowledge.

Beyond the legal requirements, you’ll want to understand some of the practical aspects of being a medical expert witness. Some of these include:

  • No criminal convictions, license revocations, or history of poor judgment or controversial past writings
  • The ability to always meet deadlines– medical-legal cases are always driven by deadlines
  • Demand for medical witnesses in your particular areas of expertise
  • Having a schedule that is flexible enough to accommodate depositions and trial appearances
  • A complete CV so your professional qualifications are available to the retaining counsel
  • Excellent verbal and written communication skills
  • An expert witness contract or a detailed fee schedule
  • Excellent research, investigative, and organizational skills

Understanding the State Laws That Govern Medical Expert Witnesses

Many states have specific criteria that physicians must meet to testify as an expert witness in a medical malpractice case. For this reason, it’s important to look into the laws in your state to see what is required.

A Medical Expert Witness

For example, some of the qualifications you might be required to meet could include:

  • Licensure
  • Board certification
  • Recent or current clinical practice
  • Teaching or research experience
  • Experience treating the condition or diagnosis at issue
  • Sharing the same specialty as the defendant
  • Active practice in a similar locale or community under similar circumstances
  • Undergoing a complete review of relevant medical records
  • Prior experience treating similar patients
  • Graduate of an AOA or AMA-accredited medical school
  • Retired from practice for no more than five years
  • No license suspension or revocation in the last twelve months
  • Licensure from the same state or a border state
  • Unrestricted medical license

How to Become a Medical Malpractice Expert Witness

Becoming a medical expert witness is perhaps one of the most natural side hustles for a doctor, as they likely already have all of the knowledge they need to start picking up this type of work by virtue of their training, education, and experience.

Even though you might have everything you need to become a medical malpractice expert witness, knowing how to break into this lucrative field can be difficult. How are you supposed to start getting jobs? How can you get your name on the attorneys needing expert witnesses?

Doctors Learning to Become Medical Malpractice Expert Witnesses

After you have built your business over time, you’ll find that attorneys start coming to you without you having to put in much effort, assuming that there is demand in your location and field in malpractice medical-legal cases. At first, though, you’ll have to tap into the entrepreneurial spirit and get your name out there.

Here are four of the most common ways that medical malpractice expert witnesses can access cases involving their expertise.

1. Get a Recommendation

Getting your first few jobs as a medical malpractice expert witness is often the hardest– once you have a few under your belt, getting more business often results from word-of-mouth. Attorneys will ask around when they are looking for someone to offer an opinion on a case, and the recommendations of their colleagues are often strongly considered when making a decision.

However, it can be worth asking someone to refer you until you get to the point where your name is being passed between attorneys. For example, if you know any other doctors in your area of expertise who work as medical expert witnesses, you can ask them to pass your name along if there’s a case they aren’t interested in pursuing or don’t have time for.

Asking For a Recommendation

Even if you don’t know anyone currently working in this field, you can research cases done by experts in your area of specialty. You can then reach out to them and express your interest.

2. Create a Website and Market Yourself

Many doctors feel odd marketing themselves as medical malpractice expert witnesses, as they worry that it will appear that this line of work is taking priority over their clinical work. The truth is, though, that advertising is key in the business world.

A Doctor Creating a Website

Creating a website and putting some time and resources into marketing can help you get a start, even if you hope to transition to relying on referrals and word-of-mouth down the road.

3. Cold Call Attorneys

You can also send your CV, a letter of interest, and a fee schedule directly to attorneys in order to advertise your services.

Cold Calling Attorneys

This simple step can result in all of your local malpractice attorneys adding your name to their list of expert witnesses they can later refer to.

4. Get Yourself Added to Relevant Databases

Perhaps the most common way that experienced doctors become expert witnesses is by registering with organizations that maintain expert witness networks.

Registering For an Expert Witness Database

There are many expert witness databases, each of which has its own requirements and eligibility rules that medical professionals need to meet to join.

How Much Can You Charge as a Medical Malpractice Expert Witness?

Before insurance companies or attorneys start inquiring about your work as a medical malpractice expert witness, you’ll want to put together a fee schedule or a contract you can provide them upon request. Your fee schedule can, if you wish, include lower rates for travel time and prep time and higher rates for time testifying in court or doing depositions.

The hourly rates charged by medical expert witnesses can range anywhere from $100 to $2,500, but the average, according to a survey with more than 1,000 expert witness respondents, put the average hourly fee at $555.

Medical Malpractice Expert Witness Earnings

It is often advised that you ask for a retainer upfront rather than charging clients after the fact. You will want to clarify whether any of the retainer fees are refundable and whether they serve as a starting bonus or count toward your hourly rate.

What to Expect as a Medical Malpractice Expert Witness

There can be a wide variety of duties and expectations when you work as a medical malpractice expert witness– for example, some attorneys might only want your opinion rather than have you create a report or conduct a literature review. It’s always important to clearly ask what the attorney is hiring you to do, both so you don’t expand beyond the scope of what they are hiring you for and because anything you write down becomes discoverable in court.

An important aspect of being a medical malpractice expert witness is practicing extreme thoroughness. Any records sent to you should be reviewed, even if they don’t seem particularly pertinent to the area or topic that you will be testifying about.

Another key responsibility when acting as an expert witness is to maintain strict confidentiality about the case. Any conversation, no matter how casual, that you have about a case becomes discoverable.

If you choose to pursue the path of becoming a medical expert witness, you’ll want to expect that you will be asked many hard questions while on the stand. Just as if you were the defendant in the case, the attorney on the opposing side is going to try to discredit you. This can be incredibly uncomfortable, and it’s important to seriously consider whether you want to put yourself in that situation.

A Medical Malpractice Expert Witness Reviewing Files

There are many other ways to earn extra money on the side of your clinical practice or even to transition from being an employee to being a full-time entrepreneur. If serving as a medical malpractice expert witness doesn’t seem like the right fit for you, take a look at some of the other guides on my site, including how to become a physician consultant and how to transition to a career in pharma

I’m always here to help you achieve an outcome where you can practice medicine on your own terms.

According to a well-known survey involving more than 20,000 healthcare workers that was released in December of 2021, roughly one-third of physicians intended to cut down on the number of hours they work or even quit practicing completely. So many doctors finally get to the point where they can start practicing, only to find that they feel incredibly limited by their work. They desire more out of life and to have more control over their time.

You don’t have to be doomed to work for someone else until you retire. There are countless ways you can turn your knowledge, skills, expertise, and experience into a profitable business, whether that means starting a private practice, medical staffing agency, product-based business, coaching business, or something else entirely.

My mission is to help doctors practice medicine and live life on their own terms by building profitable businesses. If you’re ready to take control of your life and your practice, get in touch with me today.