What Happens During a Residency Background Check?

You’re probably familiar with the background check for getting into medical school. After a successful Match Day, your future residency program may conduct a background check on you before they confirm their offer. Some hospitals and states even require a criminal background check on residents before they can start their training.
Knowing what to expect with the background check can help eliminate surprises or snags that could stall your start in the residency program. Here are a few tips for a smooth residency process:

Why do residency programs require a background check?

The core reason residency programs perform background checks on future residents is that health care providers need to protect the health, safety, and welfare of their patients. After all, most residents have access to everything from controlled substances to confidential information.
Just as important, they work in settings where good judgment and ethical behavior are critical. Knowing how a resident applicant may function in these settings is vital when it comes to providing health care services with the highest levels of integrity.
Other reasons for background checks may include:

  • More and more often, accreditation agencies require clinical facilities to conduct background checks for security purposes.
  • Programs want to avoid liability issues that could affect their medical schools and affiliated clinical facilities.
  • Programs want to know whether accepted applicants and enrolled medical students will be able to become licensed as physicians in the future.

What is covered in a background check?

A background check may include, but is not limited to, the following (covering at least the last seven years):

  • Criminal history search, including convictions, deferred adjudications, or judgments, and pending criminal charges
  • Social Security number verification
  • Violent sexual offender and predator registry search
  • Various federal and state exclusion lists
  • U.S. Treasury Department, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), Specially Designated Nationals List (SDN)

Informal Social Media Checks

Be aware that some residency programs may do online research on you as an informal background check. Yes, it’s legal to do that, and any information found may become a factor in the residency program’s decision-making process. Thus, make sure all your social media profiles are cleaned up and professional to avoid making a poor impression.

Residency program background check basics

Residency programs vary when it comes to the background check process, so you’ll want to get details from the program director. Here’s a typical scenario you may encounter if a background check is conducted before you begin residency training:

  • After the Match Day results are announced, you may receive documents such as a self-disclosure questionnaire and/or a consent to a background check form. If you decline to complete and sign one or both forms, you risk having the offer of a position immediately withdrawn.
  • Once the program receives your completed forms, it initiates the background check process.
  • If the background check is returned with no negative information, the program forwards that information to you along with a confirmation of the resident/fellow position.
  • If the background check returns negative information, the program informs you of the specific information. You may be able to discuss the results, and a conviction won’t necessarily disqualify you from entering the program. However, the decision to accept or reject a resident with a conviction is solely up to the program.

Keep in mind, it is best to fully and truthfully disclose information before the background check is completed. Failing to do so could mean immediate rejection from the program.