Medical Licensure Questions About Mental Illness and Compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act

J Am Acad Psychiatry Law. 2018 Dec;46(4):458-471. doi: 10.29158/JAAPL.003789-18.


Substantial numbers of medical students and physicians live with some form of mental illness. Over the years, many medical licensure boards have asked physician medical licensure applicants with Doctor of Medicine (MD) degrees intrusive questions about whether they have any psychiatric history. This has discouraged many who need psychiatric treatment from seeking it because of fear of the questions. Gradually, court decisions and the United States Department of Justice have established that such questions violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The 2014 Louisiana Supreme Court Settlement Agreement set definite limits on law licensure mental health questions, followed by a least one licensing body revising its physician licensure questions to be consistent with ADA standards. In this article we examine the current medical licensure questions from each state and the District of Columbia about the mental health of applicants and discuss their validity under ADA standards. Our original investigation of these questions found that the majority still ask questions that are unlikely to meet ADA standards. The judicial and Department of Justice developments, however, may compel them to abandon these questions. If not, legal action will enforce ADA compliance. This change will significantly benefit applicants who need psychiatric treatment.

Publication types

  • Legal Case

MeSH terms

  • Disabled Persons / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Humans
  • Licensure, Medical / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Mentally Ill Persons / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Physician Impairment / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Physicians / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Social Stigma
  • United States