Nearly every day I see articles demanding more stringent background check requirements for employees in jobs across the board; school teachers, babysitters and even massage therapists. Those interviewed say it must be done to protect the innocent and the vulnerable.
But what about doctors and nurses? Those we turn to when we are just that - vulnerable.
It might surprise you that of the 70 medical boards across the country, only 46 conduct criminal background checks on applicants before they are granted a license to practice medicine. In fact 14 states don’t mandate any kind of formal background check to be licensed as a doctor and 6 don’t require it of nurses.
Many of the states, like New York, actually depend on these professionals to self-report any criminal history on their license applications. They are also required to update it and notify their medical board if there are any new charges. As you can imagine, many don’t, and it’s the patients who suffer.
There are sadly way too many examples. These are just a few:
- A Colorado optometrist was accused of sexually molesting a 7-year-old during an exam in 2006. The allegation was swept under the rug until he assaulted a 4-year-old in 2011. Only then did he lose his license.
- A nurse in Syracuse, NY was accused of denying a 93-year-old nursing home patient pain medication. The man died later that evening. It took 5 years for the state to suspend her, and by then they finally figured out that she had neglected to report a drug possession conviction when she applied for her license.
- Convicted serial killer Michael Swango was allowed to practice in South Dakota and New York even though he had been charged with poisoning co-workers in Illinois.
While this is disheartening, there is a way around this licensing pitfall. Employers should not just take a state license as a green light to hire a doctor or a nurse. Hospitals, practices and clinics should have their own thorough medical background check procedures and healthcare sanction checks in place. We all want to trust our doctors and nurses, but in some cases, trust just isn’t enough.