Be Careful When Answering Questions on Your Medical License Application

I routinely receive calls from physicians, nurses, and other healthcare providers about the answers to questions which are posed in the New York State licensure application. Sometimes the situation is when the application is in the process of being filed and the call comes to me when the State is questioning the truthfulness of some of the responses to the questions.

Often the issue concerns itself with a guilty plea entered into in the distant past. This can be a drunk driving charge, a drug issue, an assault, cheating on an exam of some type or one of a myriad number problems that are difficult to place into a single category. I can say, without qualification, that these issues are much easier to deal with before the application is submitted. The reason for this is that if the issue is being questioned after the application has been filed, it means that the state is on the path to saying the applicant lied when answering the question. This, of course, can be a very good reason to deny the application on the ground that applicant is morally not fit to have a license bestowed on him/her.

So, let us take the well-known situation where the applicant is arrested for drunk driving. This arrest may have occurred 10 years ago and the applicant thinks, “no one is ever going to find out.” The arrest may have happened in another state and the idea is that New York will never become aware of the matter. This is a very foolish assumption. Many times, New York does become aware and that is when the claim of lying comes into the picture and it is not a pretty picture.

In this situation, it is imperative to determine exactly what the official ending of the DUI arrest was. Remember, the question on the application usually asks for you have been guilty of a crime. But what precisely constitutes a crime? The answer in New York is any felony or misdemeanor. Note that the degree of felony or misdemeanor is not relevant. But, a plea of guilty to a violation is not a crime and if that was the end of the situation you may then state that you have never been guilty of a crime. But it is often difficult to determine exactly what the charge in the other state was—was it what New York would call a felony or misdemeanor or was it the equivalent of a violation? One way to address this is for your lawyer to talk to the lawyer in the other state and get his/her take on exactly what the result was. If the other lawyer says the final plea was not to a felony or misdemeanor then it would be very helpful to obtain a letter from that lawyer stating that opinion. Also, your lawyer can speak to the New York Department of Education and run the situation by a lawyer there. If the state lawyer feels that the result is not a felony or misdemeanor then you can make a memo to that effect and keep the name of the lawyer in a file in case the issue raises its head in the future.

The lesson to be learned here is that it is absolutely an error to assume that New York will never uncover the issue because it was in another jurisdiction and was too long ago. If the state does undercover the problem, you could find yourself on the wrong end of an investigation into your veracity. Also, please bear in mind that if you are denied a license by New York you will, in the future, always have to answer “yes” to the question of whether you have ever been denied a license in the past. That could bring more difficulties to you in the state where you are licensed.

So, do not put your head in the sand on this issue. Bring it up with an experienced lawyer before you submit your application. If you have submitted it and are now being questioned about your answer, take yourself to a lawyer and do everything possible to prove either that you were legitimately honest with your answer or that you simply were mistaken when you answered that question and you do not answer it with the intent of hiding this event in your past. Remember, your license is of utmost importance to you, take every step possible to protect the license.