The Massachusetts Physician License Application: 9 Traps to Avoid

Andrew L. Hyams Andrew L. Hyams

Massachusetts has a reputation for having one of the most challenging physician license applications in the U.S.  The Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine (“MA Medical Board”) is strict, exacting and concerned about the slightest flaw or inconsistency on your application or in your background.

The MA Medical Board routinely rejects applicants other states would approve.  The following are just some of the issues that can disrupt your medical career if you apply for a Massachusetts license:

Trap 1:  “I had a problem in medical school but it was remediated.”  

Beware:  MA Physician license denials are not uncommon for medical education concerns:  If you had an educational bump in the road, such as a repeated year in medical school  or a period of monitoring/remediation, your application can be denied.  Even in a case where all deans, professors and supervisors were 100% satisfied that the physician had remediated, the MA Medical Board denied licensure.

Trap 2:  “I was arrested for shoplifting 20 years ago; I will explain it on my application, and everything will be fine.” 

Beware:  MA Physician license denials are not uncommon for “Non-Medicine” issues, too.  Can the Board deny an application based on a twenty year old shoplifting incident?  It can and it has.

Trap 3: “If there is a problem with my Massachusetts physician license application, I can just withdraw it.”  

This is an extremely common misconception.  Once your application goes to the Licensing Committee, you need permission from the Licensing Committee (or later the full Board) to withdraw your application.  Such permission is rarely granted, if ever.

Trap 4:  “If the MA Medical Board denies my application, I can just apply in another state.”

Of course you can apply to another state, but now you have a big career problem.  The MA Medical Board will report your license denial to the National Practitioner Data Bank.  And even if you get licensed in another state, prospective employers can see the NPDB report, which includes the MA Medical Board’s reasons for denial.  Employers will think twice before hiring you.

Trap 5:  “I know I did nothing wrong!  If the MA Medical Board unfairly denies my application, I’ll just sue!”

Yes, you can.  But this also means that instead of practicing medicine, you will be spending months and perhaps years in court, paying lawyers to vindicate your rights.

Trap 6:   “The Licensing Committee wants to interview me.  They didn’t tell me there is a problem, so I’ll go to the interview without a lawyer and find out if I have anything to worry about.”  

Start worrying now.  Your plan sounds reasonable, but the reality is you can feel ambushed at Licensing Committee by surprising accusations.  If the Licensing Committee thinks your response is inadequate, it can vote then and there to recommend a license denial.  Now your application is going to the next full Board meeting for a final vote, with a negative recommendation.  So beware:   no physician should go to a Licensing Committee interview without getting legal advice from an attorney experienced in MA Medical Board matters.

Trap 7:  “If I hire a lawyer, the Board will be suspicious that I am hiding a big problem, and it will scrutinize my application even more.”  

The Board closely scrutinizes all applications, whether or not the applicant has a lawyer.

Trap 8:  “Won’t it just antagonize the Board if I hire a lawyer?”   

If the Board finds a reason to question your application, the chances are that you have already “antagonized” them!   Also, never rely on the Board to tell you to hire a lawyer.  The Board will not tell you whether or not to hire a lawyer, no matter what your situation.

Trap 9:  “A Board staffer instructed me to change one of my answers; I’ll change the answer and everything will be fine.”  

This is another extremely common error.  An instruction from a Board staffer to change an answer is often a signal that your application will not be routinely approved.   Even what seems to be a small glitch in your MA physicians licensing application can actually be a far larger problem.

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I could expand this list to the conventional “10,” but these 9 traps sufficiently show that the MA physician license application process is replete with hidden legal hazards.  The bottom line:  getting sound legal advice early in the process might help you avoid serious detriment to your career.

Andrew L. Hyams was General Counsel for five years at the MA Board of Registration in Medicine.  He can be reached at 781-997-1566, or