MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Criminal convictions often keep people from landing jobs they may otherwise be qualified for, but that’s not always the case when it comes to the people we entrust to care for us.
WMC Action News 5 found dozens of doctors and medical professionals with criminal histories who are licensed to practice in Tennessee.
When visiting the doctor, the last thing that may be on most people's minds is whether that doctor has a criminal history.
Some people say they'd want to know.
"Yeah, I would like to know everything, as much as I could about my doctor because I trust the doctor for my health and my life," said one Memphis man.
Others told us they wouldn't.
"Just don't want to know," another man said.
Before doctors and some of their support staff like x-ray operators can see patients in Tennessee, they must first get a license from the state Board of Medical Examiners.
WMC Action News 5 Investigators reviewed five years of medical examiners board meetings.
The minutes from those meetings show at least 50 applicants, mostly doctors, admitted to having a criminal history.
Most said this stemmed from alcohol abuse.
At least a dozen said they've been arrested or convicted for DUI, some of them multiple times.
WMC confirmed three applicants served time in federal prison for Medicare fraud, including a Memphis doctor.
The audio of that doctor's reinstatement hearing is available online.
"I think we're uncomfortable given the criminal history, but you're right. I don't see substance abuse. I don't see anything that requires continuous monitoring. The penalties have been paid," one board member can be heard saying.
The board reissued a license to that doctor, who declined to talk with WMC on camera.
They also issued licenses to at least 32 of those other applicants.
"This is not uncommon, unfortunately," said Azza AbuDagga, a health services researcher for Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group. "The problem is unfortunately nationwide."
She says state boards that license doctors are often made up of doctors themselves and she says they're willing to give their colleagues a second chance.
"Like most of the public, I believe medical professionals should be held to the highest standards," said AbuDagga. "Because the medical profession tends to regulate itself and that doesn't always turn out to be in the public interest."
The Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners didn't respond to multiple requests for an interview, but sent the following statement:
"The Board of Medical Examiners looks at these situations on a case by case basis depending on the applicant's record and the timeframe of the charges. The board will often require an evaluation from the Tennessee Medical Foundation and use their recommendations in decision making regarding the license. The board may ask the applicant to appear for an interview, which affords the applicant an opportunity to show evidence of any rehabilitation and treatment he or she has undertaken."
AbuDagga says it's important to check your doctor's background because a well-informed patient is an empowered patient.
LOOK UP YOUR DOCTOR
Tennessee, Mississippi and Arkansas each provide online resources patients can use to look up the background of their doctors.
Critics say while the information is sometimes limited, it’s better than nothing.
Tennessee Department of Health’s online portal lets you verify a doctor’s credentials. In addition to viewing their educational background and certification, you can see any adverse actions that have been taken against the doctor. The board will often post accompanying documents outlining actions it took, as well as actions taken by other medical agencies and hospitals, if applicable.
Mississippi also has an online portal to help patients learn more about a doctor’s background and certification. Documents are also posted detailing actions taken by the Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure against the doctor.
Arkansas State Medical Board’s online portal doesn’t provide as many details as Tennessee or Mississippi. However, you can verify the status of a doctor’s license. You may have to request a copy of orders the board took.