QUESTION: Our hospital-affiliated group has identified a new candidate that they are very interested in employing. The candidate disclosed that she had a problem in the past that has been resolved. It turns out that, three years ago, the physician was arrested and charged with second degree cruelty to children, a felony. The charges were filed after the physician brought her infant daughter to the ED with a fractured femur. According to the affidavit filed in support of the arrest, the injury, along with others suffered by the child, raised a concern about child abuse. The charges were subsequently dismissed.
Our group knows about the charges, but says all of her references are outstanding. They are willing to give her a chance. What do we do?
ANSWER: Whenever there is an issue or a concern with an applicant, we recommend you pause and remember to keep “the burden on the applicant.” The applicant has the burden to address and resolve any questions that are raised during the initial appointment process.
When an applicant has had a recent criminal arrest, especially for a felony, you will want to explore, with the applicant, issues surrounding the charges, including the resolution of the charges. Make sure you check state law first to see if there is a prohibition against asking questions about criminal matters when the charges have been dismissed. Consider asking the applicant about the charges, the ultimate disposition of the charges, and the conditions pursuant to which the charges were dismissed.
Also consider whether the charges might have triggered an obligation on the part of the physician to notify the state medical board or the hospital where the physician was practicing and ask the physician whether she provided the required notice. If the physician did not provide notice, especially if required, this should be explored as well. You might also inquire about steps the physician has taken to address underlying issues that contributed to the criminal charges. Consider requiring the physician to provide the hospital with correspondence to and from the prosecuting attorney regarding the charges and the dismissal of the charges and any conditions that were imposed.
Minor criminal offenses, especially when the matter is old and there has been no repeat offense, may not derail an application or a favorable employment decision completely. However, serious charges, especially when the charges are recent, go to the issue of a physician’s reputation, character, ethics and perhaps integrity and require careful review and consideration.