Objective: This study examined the nature of questions about previous mental illness, physical illness, and substance abuse asked on applications for state medical licensure, partly to determine if questions focused more appropriately on any current, rather than past, disability.
Methods: In 1993 and 1996 the 66 members of the Federation of State Medical Boards of the United States, Inc., were asked to provide copies of the forms they used for medical licensure applications and renewal. The forms were reviewed to determine the presence of questions about previous mental illness, physical illness, and substance abuse and whether the questions specifically addressed the effects of the condition on the ability to practice medicine.
Results: On initial licensure applications, medical boards commonly asked questions about mental illness. Seventy-five percent of responding boards did so in 1993, and 80 percent did so in 1996. The proportion of boards that inquired about whether the mental illness might affect the applicant's ability to practice medicine increased from 42 percent in 1993 to 75 percent in 1996. Applicants were asked about substance abuse by 83 percent of the boards in 1993 and by 94 percent in 1996. Boards asked about physical conditions less often than mental conditions but were more likely to ask about physical conditions in 1996 (65 percent) than in 1993 (49 percent). Questions about physical illness almost always addressed the effect of the condition on medical practice. On license renewal requests, medical boards were less likely to ask questions about mental conditions, substance abuse, and physical illnesses than on the original applications. Among boards that asked about mental illness on renewal forms, the proportion of boards that asked about the effect of mental conditions on ability to practice medicine increased from 60 percent in 1993 to 90 percent in 1996.
Conclusions: Medical boards commonly ask questions about mental illness on licensure application and renewal forms. In many states, such questions changed between 1993 and 1996 to emphasize impairment resulting from mental illness and to use similar wording for mental disorders and physical conditions.