Every state demands this step to safeguard the well-being of its patients. These checks are intended to analyze the backgrounds of healthcare workers, ensuring that they fulfill the high professional and ethical standards expected in medicine.

Obtaining a medical license is a difficult procedure, and one critical component is the criminal background check. When you apply for a medical license, the board will look into your criminal record. They search multiple databases to find any previous infractions. This process is more than simply a formality; it is a protection. The board evaluates your character, knowledge, and experience to ensure that you represent no threat to public safety. It is critical to be open and honest about your history. If you have a history of violations, you must correctly describe them throughout the application procedure.

The value of background checks can’t be overstated. They play an important role in ensuring the trustworthy functioning of the healthcare system. These checks identify any violations of the law and confirm whether you have been barred from taking part in federally supported healthcare programs. The board utilizes this data to make educated conclusions regarding your ability to practice medicine.

Background checks are essential in the high-stakes field of healthcare, where practitioners are constantly pressured to follow stringent requirements. They guarantee that only people with the greatest qualifications may give care. This is crucial in a sector that touches all aspects of our life.

Understanding the importance of criminal background checks can help you prepare for what to expect during the licensing process. In this essay, we’ll go further into what such checks involve and why. 

The Importance of Background Checks in Medical Licensing

When you think about background checks, criminal records may spring to mind. However, the procedure for healthcare practitioners is significantly more in-depth. A medical background check is a rigorous screening designed to meet the industry’s specialized requirements. It is intended to guarantee that someone is both reliable and qualified to operate in a high-pressure setting where they can have direct contact with patients and regulated drugs. Thorough screening is crucial to prevent any wrongdoing or harm to patients.

Here are some roles that require meticulous screening:

  • Doctors and Specialists
  • Nurses and Nurse Practitioners
  • Anesthesiologists
  • Pharmacists
  • Radiologists
  • Surgeons

These professionals provide crucial care, interpret tests, and handle controlled medications. They have unique access to patients, and background checks help maintain the high standards expected in these roles. The consequences of an error could be dire or even fatal.

Background Check for Employment vs. Licensing

Licensing background checks are designed to assess the suitability of an individual to practice medicine within a specific state. These checks are generally comprehensive and mandated by state medical boards to ensure public safety.

Unlike 10 years ago, when criminal background checks were not required for licensing a physician in almost a third of the 50 states, today, most state medical boards mandate screening as part of the initial licensing process. These checks typically include fingerprinting and access to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database.

In states without mandatory CBCs, applicants must self-disclose their criminal history to assess their moral character. This process includes verifying personal identifiers like full name, date of birth, Social Security number, and address history.

Employment Background Checks

Employment background checks are typically more tiered and can vary based on the level of responsibility and access to sensitive information the position entails. These checks ensure that healthcare employers hire individuals who meet the required ethical and professional standards.

Level 1 Background Checks

Level 1 background checks are the most basic form of screening used across various professions, including some healthcare roles that might not directly involve patient care. These checks are designed to verify personal information and search for major criminal records within the state database where the applicant resides or has conducted professional activities.


  • Identity Verification: Ensures the accuracy of personal details against legal documents.
  • Criminal Records Search: Limited to the state-level database searching for felony and significant misdemeanor convictions.

Level 2 Background Checks

Level 2 background checks are more comprehensive and are typically required in roles that involve greater responsibility, particularly those that entail direct patient care or access to controlled substances.


  • Fingerprint-Based Searches: Accessing both state and national criminal databases to gather a complete criminal profile, ensuring a thorough assessment of the applicant’s past.
  • Sex Offender Registry: This is crucial for roles in sensitive environments such as hospitals, clinics, and senior care facilities.

Level 3 Background Checks

Level 3 background checks are the most extensive and are typically reserved for positions that require the highest degree of trust and autonomy. This level includes all elements of Level 1 and Level 2 checks but adds several additional layers of scrutiny.


  • Comprehensive Criminal History: Including searches through all available state and federal databases.
  • Fraud and Abuse Control Information System (FACIS) Level 3: This is a critical component for healthcare professionals, providing a deep dive into any disciplinary actions taken by healthcare boards across all states, which is vital for maintaining public trust in healthcare providers.

This approach ensures that the healthcare environment complies with legal standards and upholds the highest levels of patient safety and care integrity throughout every stage of a health practitioner’s professional journey.

medical employment background checks levels comparison

What Can Show Up on a Provider Background Check Report?

Preparing for a background check might be intimidating, but it’s an important step toward creating a safe and reliable healthcare environment. Medical boards and healthcare employers typically run a series of checks to verify your identity, credentials, and past records. While many of the checks for medical licensing overlap with those conducted by employers, the context and implications can differ. Let’s break it down:

  • Identity verification
  • Criminal records search
  • National sex offender registry search
  • License verification
  • DEA disbarment check
  • Past employment verification
  • Education verification
  • FACIS check
  • OIG check
  • SAM check

For instance, identity verification confirms that you are who you say you are. This might seem straightforward, but it’s essential for rooting out potential fraud. Additionally, it enables organizations to perform all other background checks on the candidate that should be performed, based upon their name and address history. 

Criminal Records and Sex Offender Registry Search

While there’s no comprehensive national criminal database— even FBI records capture only about half of all crimes—a multi-jurisdictional criminal database can be an invaluable tool. It helps uncover criminal records from various places that might not otherwise be flagged by someone’s address history.

One critical component of these checks is the sex offender registry search. This certifies whether a person has been accused, convicted, or pleaded guilty to a sex offense. Implementing this type of screening is critical for protecting all patients, particularly those in populations at risk, and perhaps avoiding abuse.

Healthcare organizations take the screening for criminal records seriously, focusing on identifying major red flags that could disqualify a candidate. In some cases, disqualification is automatic under state law for serious offenses, including:

  • Homicide or manslaughter
  • Felony assault or battery, particularly those resulting in injury
  • Rape and other sexual offenses
  • Drug trafficking
  • History of elder or patient abuse

Convictions for fraud, theft, and other financial crimes also raise significant concerns. Does this mean having any criminal record disqualifies you from working in healthcare? Not exactly. Minor offenses or old convictions may not have a significant impact on your licensing process. However, obtaining a career in healthcare might be tough if you have strong convictions.

When an applicant’s criminal background comes to light, here’s what usually appears:

  • The date of the offense
  • The nature of the offense
  • Whether it was a misdemeanor or felony
  • How the offense was resolved
  • The date of the resolution
  • Details of the sentence, if applicable
  • Any pending criminal cases

Additionally, if your jurisdiction has redemption laws, any expunged convictions will not appear on background checks.

Medical License Verification

Verifying current and former medical licenses is an important stage. This check verifies that a candidate has legitimate qualifications and has not received any punishments that may impair the applicant’s capacity to practice responsibly and lawfully.

A thorough medical license verification will typically reveal:

  • The type of medical license held
  • The date it was issued
  • The expiration date of the license
  • Any sanctions or suspensions on the license
  • The current status of the license

This check is not limited to the licensing process. Employing an unlicensed doctor may expose the organization to considerable liabilities and harm its reputation. Thus, executing this verification is more than simply a formality; it is a critical protection. It helps to guarantee that all medical professionals on staff are qualified and in good standing with medical licensing authorities.

medical licensure background check timeline

Employment and Education Verification

Only candidates with verifiable experience and appropriate qualifications should be considered for positions that often demand technical training and specific prior experience.

Employment Verification dives deep into an applicant’s professional background, providing insights into their career trajectory. This process typically uncovers:

  • The names and addresses of previous employers
  • The dates during which the candidate was employed at each position
  • The specific positions and titles they held

This detailed look helps confirm the accuracy of the applicant’s work history and the responsibilities they’ve managed, which is essential in assessing their suitability for the role.

Education Verification is equally critical. It confirms that a candidate has attended the institutions they claim and earned the degrees listed on their resume. The key details verified usually include:

  • The name, address, and location of each educational institution attended
  • The periods of attendance
  • The degrees or qualifications conferred

For verification purposes, most boards require candidates to submit official transcripts. This step ensures that educational achievements are not only claimed but also substantiated by credible documentation.

In the context of healthcare, where precision and reliability are paramount, ensuring that all professionals have the necessary background and credentials protects the integrity of the medical profession.

Healthcare Sanctions

Medical boards may evaluate a doctor’s disciplinary history, particularly any healthcare sanctions, and when reviewing his or her licensing application. Some states engage in databases that contain disciplinary information, whilst others concentrate on nondisciplinary licensing information.

While optional for licensing, this check is mandatory during the hiring process. Compliance regulations must be followed by entities who provide Medicare and Medicaid services. It is prohibited for these companies to hire physicians that are under penalty. The stakes are high: employing a sanctioned physician could result in fines of up to $10,000 per infraction, as well as suspension from federal healthcare programs.

Healthcare sanctions checks are thorough, tapping into multiple state and federal databases to ascertain whether a physician has been flagged by healthcare regulators. Here’s a breakdown of what these checks typically involve:

Another important tool in the arsenal is the Fraud Abuse Control Information System (FACIS), which does a thorough search for healthcare penalties. FACIS is made up of often updated databases that give varied degrees of data. These checks are intended to guarantee that healthcare workers have neither defrauded state or federal health care programs or abused patients. The checks also involve reviewing databases such as the OFAC (Office of Foreign Assets Control) and SDNs (Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List), which include people related to terrorism, drug cartels, and other high-risk groups.

FACIS checks are detailed and tiered into three levels:

  • FACIS Level 1: Includes basic checks like OIG, DEA, FDA, Medicare Opt-Out, OFAC-SDN, Tricare, and state debarment and Medicaid sanctions.
  • FACIS Level 2: Builds on Level 1 by adding additional state information.
  • FACIS Level 3: The most comprehensive, including all data from Levels 1 and 2 plus information from sanctioning boards across all states and U.S. territories.

This stringent screening is critical for identifying individuals who are excluded from participation in federally supported healthcare programs owing to a variety of offenses, ranging from medical billing fraud to major breaches of medical standards and procedures.

How Far Back Do Physician Background Checks Go?

The depth and breadth of background checks for physicians can vary significantly based on state laws and, in terms of hiring, on several factors including the role, hospital policies, and local regulations. These checks are critical for ensuring the safety of patients by verifying qualifications and background.

Generally, criminal background checks for physicians extend back seven to ten years, but this range can differ based on specific job requirements and local laws. Positions involving vulnerable groups, such as children or the elderly, might necessitate more extensive background checks that probe even further into a candidate’s past.

For healthcare professionals, criminal history reviews usually cover a decade, including checks across all states and jurisdictions where the individual has resided. Employment background verifications also tend to look back seven to ten years.

It’s worth noting that the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), a federal rule, restricts how far back certain sorts of information may be submitted on background checks for positions paying less than $75,000 per year. For certain jobs, data such as arrests that did not result in convictions, liens, civil judgments, civil litigation, and bankruptcies that are more than seven years old cannot be disclosed. However, because most physician roles are compensated well above this threshold, these restrictions typically do not apply.

Some state laws also impose limitations on the reporting period for background checks. Regardless of the time restrictions, vital information like convictions, educational credentials, and employment history can often be reported without temporal limitation, ensuring a comprehensive view of the candidate’s background.

The Impact of Background Findings on Medical Licensure

State medical boards consider a range of factors from these checks to determine the suitability of candidates. Offenses such as several DUIs, drug trafficking, or violence can result in disqualification. Multiple misdemeanors, such as three DUI offenses within ten years, may be considered felonies in some jurisdictions, affecting licensure severely.

Depending on the nature of the offense, applicants might receive a license with specific conditions. Factors such as a single misdemeanor with no subsequent offenses, proactive rehabilitation efforts, or demonstrating a period of responsible behavior can influence the board to grant a conditional license.

Individuals with offenses that do not critically compromise public safety might be subjected to probationary licensure. During this period, their compliance with medical standards and public safety measures is rigorously monitored.

The board evaluates how the severity and relevance of the offense might affect the applicant’s ability to practice medicine. For instance, a crime involving violence or substance abuse directly questions the applicant’s ability to ensure patient safety.

Drug-related offenses are critically scrutinized, especially if they suggest substance dependency, which poses direct risks to patient care. Financial crimes, while non-violent, raise concerns about ethical integrity and trustworthiness, crucial traits for someone in a healthcare setting.

Recent offenses are particularly concerning as they reflect the current character and habits of the applicant. In contrast, older offenses might be given less weight, especially if there is substantial evidence of behavior change and professional rehabilitation.

medical criminal licensure background requirements by state

Criminal Background Checks (CBCs) Board-by-Board Overview

The approach to criminal background checks (CBCs) for healthcare professionals varies significantly between states, reflecting diverse legislative priorities and healthcare safety standards. Understanding these differences is crucial for navigating the licensure process effectively.

An overwhelming majority of state medical boards, specifically 60 out of the total, mandate criminal background checks as part of the initial licensing process. However, the depth and scope of these checks can differ. For instance:

  • Florida: In Florida, healthcare workers undergo what is known as a Level 2 background screening. This involves fingerprint-based checks that access both state and federal criminal records, providing a comprehensive overview of an applicant’s criminal history. This type of screening is crucial due to the direct access healthcare workers have to vulnerable populations and controlled substances. Florida’s stringent requirements are part of a broader effort to ensure that those entering the healthcare profession do not have past criminal activities that could impede safe patient care. Moreover, recent legislative efforts aim to extend these requirements to all healthcare workers, including dietitians, dentists, and optometrists, as proposed in HB 975 by Reps. Dana Trabulsy and Allison Tant.
  • Pennsylvania: Like Florida, Pennsylvania is currently attempting to improve background check protocols through agreements between the state police and the FBI. This collaboration intends to expedite the process of getting fingerprints and completing background checks across state and federal databases, therefore facilitating the execution of the Nurse Licensure Compact and the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact. This initiative was bolstered by legislation passed by the state House Professional Licensure Committee, confirming Pennsylvania’s commitment to maintaining strong standards in healthcare licensure.

A significant number of state medical boards, specifically 56 out of the total, require fingerprinting as a condition for initial licensure. This method ensures a more accurate and comprehensive search of criminal records. Additionally, 59 state medical boards have access to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database, which is instrumental in providing detailed national-scope criminal histories.

StateCriminal Background Checks Fingerprints FBI Database Access 
District of ColumbiaXXX
North CarolinaXX
North DakotaXXX
New HampshireXXX
New JerseyXX
New MexicoXXX
New York
Puerto Rico
Rhode Island
South CarolinaXXX
South DakotaXXX
Virgin Islands
West VirginiaXXX

Navigating Medical Licensure with a Criminal Record

When applying for a medical license, the cardinal rule is honesty. Misrepresenting your history on a licensure application not only risks severe consequences but can also undermine your entire career. Medical boards thoroughly evaluate applicants and value transparency as they assess your suitability for practice. It’s crucial to openly discuss any past issues, demonstrate how you’ve addressed them, and prove that you’ve moved beyond them.

Misleading a medical board, especially about criminal history, can lead to charges of perjury. Such dishonesty may not just halt your career progress; it can end it. The boards are screening not only for past criminal activity but also for any personality traits that might negatively impact your professional conduct in the future. Being upfront about your past is essential, as evasion could lead to severe repercussions.

However, honesty does not guarantee licensure. The nature of your misdemeanor and its relevance to medical ethics, your character, and your capacity to care for patients will all be considered. Certain misdemeanors, even if not directly related to medical practice, could still obstruct your licensing process.

If you have a checkered past, the medical board will provide opportunities to discuss it. During such discussions, it’s vital to stick to the facts requested, avoiding oversharing. Being forthright is the best approach, preparing to explain any potential red flags that might appear during background checks.

If concerns about your criminal history are affecting your application process, our team is here to help. We offer comprehensive support for medical licensure applications, from crafting professional submissions to verifying credentials and providing regular updates throughout the process. We specialize in assisting physicians with criminal records navigate the complexities of obtaining licensure. For dedicated support and expertise, don’t hesitate to contact us immediately.