Humans Before Heroes

Reframing Mental Health Licensure Questions

“If you’ve trained for all these years as a physician and then you can’t practice because back 10 years ago you had postpartum depression, that’s really threatening.”

— Katherine J. Gold, M.D., M.S.W., M.S.

Humans Before Heroes :

Reframing Mental Health Licensure Questions

Humans Before Heroes is a new initiative of the American Medical Women’s Association launched in conjunction with the 3rd National Physician Suicide Awareness Day. While the COVID-19 pandemic has brought physicians into the spotlight as heroes risking their lives to treat patients on the frontlines, as humans there is an emotional toll from balancing work with home life, the physical risk of contracting the illness, the exhaustion, and the grief. We have long known that physicians have had some of the highest suicide rates of any profession, but our mental health needs will only be amplified after this shared trauma. It is critical that we remove all barriers to care-seeking so no frontline hero is left sacrificing themselves for others. Mental health treatment must be normalized and encouraged without fear of losing one’s livelihood and purpose from intrusive questions about physical or mental health issues on licensure application and renewal forms.

The Federation of Medical State Boards has a list of 10 recommendations regarding mental health licensure questions which balance the medical board’s mission to protect patients from impaired physicians, while allowing physicians to seek care without fear of losing one’s license.

This site is intended to give the tools needed to become a champion in your state to reframe the mental health licensure questions.

There has been no greater need for change or momentum for it, than now.


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Road Map

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Key People

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Key Resources

These are key resources for those who want to get up to speed on the issues and experts on this topic in approximately an hour.

Physician Reluctance to Seek Care for Mental Health Conditions (October 2017)- 10 min video

“Dr. Liselotte Dyrbye, a Professor of Medicine and Medical Education at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, shares results of her study appearing in the October 2017 issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings, which examined the association between medical licensing application questions and physicians’ reluctance to seek care for mental health issues. The authors note physicians were more likely to be reluctant to seek care for mental health concerns if they worked in a state where initial/renewal medical license application questions asked about diagnosis or treatment for a mental health condition rather than only asking about current impairment from a mental health condition. Available at:”

Unspoken: Doctor Depression and Suicide (August 2018)- 18 min video

“Researchers estimate hundreds of physicians die by suicide every year in the U.S., but exact numbers are hard to come by. Newsy takes an in-depth look at the challenges doctors face to get mental health treatment.”

Medical Licensure Questions about Mental Illness and Compliance with the American with Disabilities Act (December 2018)- Article

“This article first reviews the prevalence of psychiatric illness among medical students and physicians. It then turns to the stigma faced by those so afflicted. Next, it reviews the legal precedents regarding the validity of licensure questions about these concerns with a focus on the seminal 2014 Louisiana Supreme Court Settlement Agreement. This review is followed by a detailed presentation of the questions currently asked by the medical licensure bodies in the 50 states and the District of Columbia and an evaluation of their validity under the ADA.”

Supplemental Resource: Report and Recommendations of the FSMB Workgroup on Physician Wellness and Burnout (July 2018)- Article

“At its Annual Meeting, held April 26–28, 2018, the FSMB House of Delegates adopted a new policy on physician wellness and burnout intended to provide guidance for state medical boards as they seek to address this issue among their licensees. The full text of the policy is being offered here as a supplemental resource for readers of this special edition of the Journal.”


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