Licensees with Mental Illness

A responsibility and obligation of the Oregon Medical Board is the licensing and regulation of physicians and other health care professionals, in order to uphold the standards of the medical profession and to protect the public from the practice of medicine or acupuncture by an impaired licensee.

The Board recognizes that a licensee, like any other member of society, is susceptible to illnesses, including mental illness. It is also known that a licensee can have a mental illness or seek counseling and not be occupationally impaired. For example, this can occur with some depression and anxiety disorders, or with marital and family problems.

However, just as with a physical illness, a licensee’s ability to practice medicine or acupuncture may be compromised by his or her mental illness. This can occur with organic mental disorders, some mood and psychotic disorders and various types of character problems. Under ORS 677.190, the Board is required to refuse to grant or renew licenses, or to suspend or revoke licenses to practice medicine or acupuncture, under certain conditions. One such condition is any mental illness affecting a licensee’s ability to safely practice medicine or acupuncture.

In such cases, the Board takes appropriate licensing action based on such evidence as civil adjudication or voluntary commitment to an institution for treatment of mental diseases. Supporting evidence may also include findings from an examination conducted by three impartial psychiatrists retained by the Board.

Furthermore, ORS 677.225 requires automatic license suspension when the Board learns that a licensee has been committed by civil action or admitted on a voluntary basis to a treatment facility for longer than 25 consecutive days, for a mental illness that affects the ability of the licensee to safely practice medicine or acupuncture.

The Board supports the de-stigmatization of mental illnesses in licensees. This is exemplified by the questions on the initial application and registration (renewal) forms that ask about current disabilities from mental illness rather than focusing only on the presence of a mental diagnosis and treatment. Specifically, the questions focus on the presence of serious physical or mental illnesses or hospitalizations for either illness (physical or mental) within the past five years which impairs (or impaired) the licensee’s ability to practice medicine safely and competently.

If the Board has reasonable cause to believe that any licensee is or may be unable to practice medicine with reasonable skill and safety to patients, the Board may direct and order an investigation. This may include a mental, physical or medical competency examination for the purpose of determining the fitness of the licensee to practice medicine with reasonable skill and safety to patients, as outlined by ORS 677.420.

No restrictions are placed upon a licensee if the licensee is not found to be impaired by his or her mental illness.

However, if the mental illness is found to impair the licensee’s ability to practice medicine or acupuncture, then the Board may take disciplinary action as outlined by ORS 677.205. This may include license limitation, probation, suspension, revocation or denial of license. All of these Board actions are reportable to the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB).

The Board recognizes the adverse consequences of stigmatizing mental illness, including interference with the licensee seeking treatment. The presence of current impairment from a mental illness is investigated rather than focusing on a potential mental disability. As a result, the Board can protect the public and ensure that a licensee who has a mental illness can practice safely, professionally and competently.

-Revised July 2005