Medical Boards to Reassess Mental Health Questions To Help Healthcare Heroes

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Currently healthcare support workers have one of the highest suicide rates of any profession, yet over 40% of physicians are reluctant to seek care due to concern that it could affect their medical license.

Healthcare heroes have been fighting COVID-19 for months, and while fighting for our lives, they have gone through their own quiet battle and now they need our help to fight for theirs. According to a recent study among Chinese physicians from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), 72% felt distressed after the COVID-19 outbreak and 50% felt depressed, and recent studies consistently show that over 50% of U.S. healthcare workers’ mental health has declined due to COVID-19. 

The problem? State licensing boards across the country continue to ask overly intrusive questions regarding the psychiatric history of physician applicants which serves to not only perpetuate the stigmatization of mental illness among the profession, but to discourage physician applicants from seeking critical mental health services. These questions often are not narrowly tailored to reasonably assess the physician applicant’s fitness to practice medicine with reasonable skill and safety and may on this basis run afoul of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

We support the policy positions that the American Psychological Association (APA) and Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) have publicly taken. Simple adjustments in language and order of questioning will further support workers that have risked their lives and mental wellbeing to keep us safe. With this petition, we’re asking states to reassess and narrowly tailor their mental health questions, focusing on conditions that may currently affect their ability to practice medicine, to be aligned with the APA and FSMB recommendations.

"While member boards strongly feel that questions addressing the mental health of physician applicants must be included on medical licensing applications, we recommend appropriate phrasing of such questions, including focusing only on current impairment, which may be more meaningful in the context of a physician’s ability to provide safe care to patients in the immediate future," says the Federation of State Medical Boards. “These questions may be better obtained through means less likely to discourage treatment-seeking among physician applicants.”

Please help our healthcare heroes by signing this petition. We are hopeful that, with your advocacy, we can push state medical boards to reassess questioning around mental health to allow those on the front lines get the help they need.