Medical credentialing: Explaining yourself when you’re off the grid

The non-medical reader may wonder what I am complaining about.  Of course, many of you have to be credentialed in your fields as well, whether law or accounting, law enforcement or public service, education, nursing or a trade.  But those of you in medicine know how difficult it can be to become credentialed as a physician, either by a state for purposes of a license, or by a hospital in order to be on staff.  As a locums provider, this is one of the true banes of my existence, as every new state, every new facility has to ensure that I am not now, nor have I ever been an axe murderer, drug addict, drug dealer, sexual predator or anything else nefarious.

I’ve grown accustomed to the endless queries of my medical school diploma, my DEA certificates, my file in the National Practitioner Data Bank and all the rest.  I am no longer shocked when asked, ‘Did you graduate from college?  Did you graduate from medical school?”  I am comfortable with being fingerprinted over and over, and I happily check all the boxes “no” pertaining to my theoretical criminal history.

But one question finally got to me.  First some context.  I graduated from medical school in 1990 and started residency the following Autumn.

Question for state license:  “What were you doing from May 1990 until August 1990?”  My inherent smart aleck raised its angry head and I started to write:  “Joined anti-government militia for two months,” “traveled with Taliban,” or “pronounced myself deity and started cult.”  But then I realized the perfect answer.

Question:  “What were you doing from May 1990 until August 1990?”

Answer:  “My new wife.”

So, as a physician, there were three months where I wasn’t busily serving the medical industrial complex?  Three months when I wasn’t rounding, writing notes,  studying or otherwise kneeling before the great gold Caduceus?  Ghastly! What was I thinking after college and medical school?  Of course, the next question was, “What were you doing from June of 1993 to August of 1993?”  I had just finished residency and was traveling with said wife, moving to a new state and studying for the National Board of Medical Examiners exam, Part III.  Part III I say!  The test those credentialing people expect me to take!

There were two months unaccounted for, when I was not on the vast medical radar!  Can you imagine the horrors that might ensue from an untracked, unmonitored, unproductive physician?  I shudder at the thought.

Credentialing is a pain. But it’s a bigger pain when all of us are treated as if we are criminals on probation rather than professionals trying our best.

Lighten up, people.  It’s a job.  It’s not a life.

Edwin Leap is an emergency physician who blogs at and is the author of The Practice Test and Life in Emergistan.  

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