It’s possible to be a doctor with a criminal record or a felony to your name. But first you have to get accepted into a medical school and complete the program. Medical admissions offices, although they’re not legally obliged to, do screen for things like this.
One more thing to consider once graduated; the challenge of getting a medical licence with a felony. Most countries have strict policies (at least in the US, UK, Canada and Australia) when granting doctors legality to practice. So having a felony in your personal history will often prevent that.
But there are caveats to these scenarios and more.
Here are some common reasons proving otherwise:
- The degree and circumstance of the felony
- The ability to expunge a crime from your records (or get pardoned)
- State or country policy regarding medical licencing
- Individual University admissions practices
- Non-medical licencing jobs
This article aims to look at this question a little deeper. As well as provide some pointers on what to do if you have a felony or criminal history and want to become a doctor.
Should You Become a Doctor if You Have a Felony?
Personally, as anybody who has read my personal story about how I got into medicine will know, I’m all for unconventional routes into the career. Although I don’t have a criminal record myself, I’m in no way opposed to those that do becoming doctors. Mistakes from the past should stay exactly that.
And there should always be a road to redemption.
Studying medicine and going on to become a doctor, in my opinion, could be the ideal way to do that. It’s a community-based job. It’s also one that involves plenty of personal sacrifice for the greater good.
In my eyes, the possibility should always be there. If it’s something you want and you’re confident enough to feel you could achieve it, why shouldn’t you at least try? The worst you can do is get rejected.
For extra inspiration check out the story of Michael Maddaus, a professor of surgery at the University of Minnesota. Maddaus is also a reformed juvenile delinquent with 24 arrests and 5 reform sentences to his name.
Then there’s Stanley Andrisse, Assistant Professor at Howard University College of Medicine. A doctor who had multiple felony convictions for drug trafficking.
So it can be done.
The Difficulty of Becoming a Doctor With a Felony
Becoming a doctor with a felony to your name would never be as easy it would without. A felony, in the US, is considered a serious crime. One for which you might serve prison time or be forced into paying a fine.
As most hospital employment policy runs background checks on people they authorise to work, getting cleared to work with a felony on your personal records might prove tough. The same goes for a medical application. Certain admissions offices could see it as an immediate red flag.
Medical licencing is another issue. Although there’s the opportunity to work in non-licenced roles and still call yourself a “doctor”. But this largely depends on your employer.
Where things could prove easier, as briefly mentioned, is when a significant (3-10 years) period of time has elapsed between the period of the felony and the point of application. Sometimes admissions offices and licensing boards will look on you more favorably if you can substantially prove you’ve reformed your character.
Obviously the severity of the felony would have some impact too. But crimes carrying serious punishment would be unlikely to grant you the opportunity to apply and become a doctor in the first place.
As for the reason why a felony can be such a big deal when it comes to attempting to score a job in medicine? Most medical licencing committees or med school admissions would claim it shows poor judgement.
Something you can’t afford to have working in medicine.
Can You Be A Doctor With a Misdemeanour?
As misdemeanours are considered less serious than a felony, it’s probably easier to become a doctor with a misdemeanour to your name than it would be a felony.
Another reason this could be the case is because it’s also easier to get a misdemeanour expunged and taken off your personal record. This would then make background checks safer for you and less open to questioning. But you still might be asked if you’ve ever been charged or convicted, especially when matching or applying for board certification (licencing).
You’ll get a better idea if you’ll be asked this if the institution you’re applying to lists CBC (criminal background check) on their application.
Obviously having neither (misdemeanour or felony) will make becoming a doctor easier. There will be less questioning and less judgement.
It’s also safe to assume there’d be more potential opportunities (schools, specialties, visa applications abroad) without either too.
Note: Medical schools, at least in the US, do have access to expunged records. Don’t think just because they’re legally off your record that they still won’t be visible. They might be seen in a better light than existing felonies or misdemeanours however.
Can A Felon Be A Doctor? Tips to Improve Chances
Having already mentioned particular circumstances that can reduce the gravity of a felony in the chance of becoming a doctor, here are some further tips:
- Research state or country law: figuring out what your felony or criminal record counts for and whether it can exempt you from certain jobs and sectors is the obvious first step. It might be possible to get legal counsel in trying for a pardon. Doing so would make becoming a doctor easier.
- Contact medical admissions directly: if you have an institution in mind it’d be a good idea to read over their admissions policy or contact someone for more information relevant to your situation. You might find certain places to be open to your application and potential training.
- Put together a strong application: developing aspects of your character and application that display commitment, responsibility and maturity, can do a lot to separate you from past negatives. Even more so if you can explain, in actions and writing, how mistakes of the past have little or no bearing on the present.
- Have confidence: medical admissions, due to the volume of applications, have seen everything. People from all walks of life have been accepted into med school (felons included) in the past. What’s to say it’d be an impossibility for you?
When the worst thing that could happen is you get rejected from one school, there’s really nothing to lose. Granted you’ve put your past behind you – and done a lot to prove yourself as a reformed and upstanding character, it’s worth it to keep going.
Although there exists many impediments to becoming a doctor, there also exists a world of second chances. Just like every other human walking the Earth, doctors are far from perfect. Each has a past. Each has things they’d probably say they’re not proud of.
A felony, or any other sort of crime to your name, is hardly like having an issue with math however. Depending on the circumstances, it’s possible it could hold you back. But the opposite is also true.
At the end of the day, you’re the person in the best position to gauge how serious your situation could be. And you’re also the only person who can make it happen.
But if there’s one thing to take from this; it’s this…
Felons have become doctors in the past.
Felons continue to become doctors.
Born and raised in the UK, Will went into medicine late (31) after a career in journalism. He’s into football (soccer), learned Spanish after 5 years in Spain, and has had his work published all over the web. Read more.