New Jersey Considering Law Requiring International Criminal Background Checks for Doctors Who Lived Abroad

By Michael Klazema on 4/20/2015

Along with teachers, doctors are among the most thoroughly background-checked professionals in the United States. However, in New Jersey state legislators aren't sure that existing background check policies are enough to make sure that physicians are safe and trustworthy. In fact, a piece of legislation originally introduced in the New Jersey State Senate, titled S-1533—would require additional background checks for doctors who have lived abroad.

Specifically, the law would mandate special international background checks for any doctors who have previously lived in foreign country. The New Jersey State Board of Medical Examiners would be responsible for the checks, which would apply both to new doctors and to longtime physicians looking to renew their licenses. Supposedly, the checks would have to determine if doctors had criminal records in any other country before they could be completed.

On the one hand, the legislation makes perfect sense. It's good practice to run background checks in several states if a person has resided in more than one state. That's why at we often recommend using address histories to maximize the accuracy of a pre-employment background screening. Considering these practices, it's not at all crazy to look into an employee's criminal background in foreign countries if that person has lived abroad. It makes so much sense, in fact, that the New Jersey State Senate passed the bill with a vote of 38-1. The legislation is now awaiting further consideration from the General Assembly.

Not everyone is happy with the idea of S-1533, though. The New Jersey Board of Medical Examiners has decided to oppose the bill, for reasons mostly pertaining to practicality. Specifically, the medical board is worried that the measure would create confusion with background checks for doctors, would add hefty costs to the board's background check expenses, could create background check backlogs, and would be downright unfair to medical professionals. After all, no other profession requires its workers to undergo international background checks.

However, the State Senator who is sponsoring the bill said the fact that no other professions utilize international checks isn't an excuse to not implement them for doctors. In fact, the Senator said she would consider drafting similar bills for other professions, to close a loophole that considers international criminal charges an "out of sight, out of mind" consideration.

The bill was inspired by the story of a New Jersey anesthesiologist who worked as a surgeon in the state without proper training, and who was licensed there in spite of a manslaughter charge in the United Kingdom. The manslaughter charge came through in 2001, after the doctor in question sedated a patient to have tooth pulled. An improper dosage killed the patient, and the doctor lost his license in the United Kingdom. When he came to the United States, he was able to become licensed medical practitioner in New Jersey. And since the state doesn't check for international charges, he was able to get away with not disclosing his criminal offense on his licensing application.


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