The research showed that licensing requirements in many states include questions about past mental health treatments or diagnoses, with the implication that they may limit a physician’s right to practice medicine.
The investigators examined licensing documents for physicians in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., as well as renewal applications from 48 states. They also collected data in a national survey of more than 5,800 physicians, including attitudes about seeking mental healthcare. Nearly 40% of respondents said they would hesitate to seek professional help for a mental health condition because they feared doing so could have negative impacts on their medical license.
In assessing initial or renewal licensing documents, the researchers found that approximately one-third of states were consistent with the American Medical Association, American Psychiatric Association, and Federation of State Medical Board polices and recommendations, or in clear compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Those states only asked about current medical or mental health conditions that could impair a physician’s ability or did not ask about mental health conditions.
In contrast, the majority of documents included questions about past diagnoses or treatments for mental health problems. According to the survey, physicians in those majority states were 21% more likely to be reluctant to seek help for a mental health condition.
“Clearly, in some states, the questions physicians are required to answer to obtain or renew their license are keeping them from seeking the help they need to recover from burnout and other emotional or mental health issues,” said Liselotte Dyrbye, MD, MHPE, a professor of medical education at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and lead author of the article.
The researchers say that changing the licensing regulations in these states would be a simple and important step to reducing barriers to physicians seeking treatment. The cost would be minimal but would, in many cases, require action by state legislatures.