AMA asks for fair student background checks

Medical school debt also was discussed by delegates at the Annual Meeting.

By Myrle Croasdale — Posted July 10, 2006

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With the Assn. of American Medical Colleges recommending that all schools screen applicants' records and the Veterans Health Administration now requiring background checks for all employees, including 16,000 medical students rotating through annually, the AMA wants to make sure the system protects students and patients.

The American Medical Association House of Delegates at its June Annual Meeting directed the AMA to work with relevant organizations to standardize these checks and develop policy and procedures to ensure that they are conducted so that the public is protected and students are treated fairly.

The standardized system needs to avoid duplication and examine data on arrests, misdemeanors and felonies at the national and county level, delegates said. Also, only convictions and arrests where court dispositions are pending should be considered, not arrests where the individual was found not guilty, they said. There also needs to be guidelines for appropriate action when individual background checks raise concerns.

Rodney Hood, MD, past president of the National Medical Assn., recounted his own arrest as a second-year medical student after he and a classmate saw two policemen corral a group of rowdy teens at a train station and lead them away for questioning. The police officers arrested Dr. Hood and his friend after they followed the group, concerned about the teens. The charges against Dr. Hood's white friend were dropped, but not Dr. Hood, who is black. While his friend's testimony eventually cleared Dr. Hood, he emphasized that racial biases can taint applicants' records and that they should be handled with sensitivity.

In other issues, AMA delegates voted to make medical education debt a top priority for legislative and other action, such as ensuring stable funding for medical education and limiting tuition increases. They also directed the AMA to write a report on the status of education on substance abuse and addiction in medical schools and residency programs.

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