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Study looks at potential issues with state medical board treatment of mental health, substance abuse

Admission to the practice of medicine is a significant accomplishment, but there are a number of potential barriers that can get in the way, for certain physicians. One of these potential barriers is intrusive inquiry about mental health history and substance abuse. According to a recent study from the University of Michigan, many state medical boards inquire more deeply into these matters than physical health conditions, and this focus may be having negative effect on physicians.

One of the concerns about heavily emphasizing inquiries into mental health and substance abuse history is that it could be prompting physicians to keep their struggles to themselves since revealing such things could affect their ability to obtain full licensure. If a state medical board determines that mental health or substance abuse issues are present, the board may order license restrictions or ongoing monitoring.

Another concern with heavily emphasizing mental health and substance abuse matters is that it may be illegal, at least in some cases. Under Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act, professional licensing boards have to be careful about how they approach disability inquiries in the licensing process. Questions which pertain to mental illness or substance abuse far in the past, or which have little to do with the affect of such matters on a physician’s ability to meet his or her professional obligations going forward, are going to be suspect.

Mental health and substance abuse issues can, as we’ve previously noted on this blog, also form the basis for physician disciplinary action. In our next post, we’ll look at this issue and how physicians can protect themselves from unfair disciplinary action based on mental health or substance abuse history.


Science Daily, “State medical licensing boards’ practices may hurt physician mental health,” June 14, 2017., Americans with Disabilities Act Title II Regulations, published August 11, 2016.