There’s nothing cool about domestic violence. Whether you are the perpetrator or the person being abused, domestic violence damages relationships and, in some cases, can be lethal. If you are convicted of perpetrating domestic violence, it might affect your ability to work in a medical field. For that matter, having a record of domestic violence could keep you from getting into medical school in the first place.
Although each state defines domestic violence from the legal perspective, the exact definition may vary, according to the American Bar Association. Most definitions include assault or physical harm, and some include threatening behavior, stalking, rape or other violent actions, such as harming a pet. In some states, it includes child abuse. These definitions are relevant because some activities characterized as domestic violence are felonies, while others might be misdemeanors. When you're looking at medical school, whether you were convicted of a domestic violence offense or entered a no-contest plea makes a difference, according to a January 2012 article in “U.S. News and World Report.”
Protecting Patients from Harm
Medical school admissions committees have a responsibility not to accept applicants who might be a threat to patients or who might act unethically. An admissions committee doesn’t want to approve someone who may subsequently be found unfit to practice medicine. What a school asks about depends on the school. Some are only interested in major issues, such as felonies, while others want the nitty-gritty on speeding tickets and the like. Medical schools expect you to present letters of recommendation and may contact former employers or teachers about your personal reputation or performance, in addition to checking your criminal record. Even if you were not convicted, friends, family members, and others who know or suspect you are a domestic violence perpetrator may be unwilling to write a letter for you or give you a positive recommendation.
On the Job
If you do manage to make it through medical school and into the profession, employers typically conduct background and reference checks as well. Having a criminal record may keep you from getting a job. Before you cry foul and file a discrimination suit, note that it isn't necessarily discrimination, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. For example, two job applicants have the same education, experience and other qualifications, and both have an arrest record for domestic violence. If an employer turns down only one applicant and cites the arrest record as the reason, it might qualify as discrimination since the other applicant was hired with a similar arrest record, especially if the applicant turned down was a member of a minority group.
If you are the person being abused, you haven’t done anything illegal, and an admissions committee has no reason to deny you on that basis. However, medical school and residency are stressful -- you’ll spend long hours on the job and face many emotional and mental demands. You have the choice to share your past or not, but recognize that, as a survivor, you may face special challenges -- such as depression, anxiety or flashbacks -- that your peers do not, especially when you confront domestic violence with your patients. If you have restraining orders or think there might be a risk to fellow students or patients, you are honor-bound to share that information with the admissions committee for the safety of all involved.
- American Bar Association: Domestic Violence Civil Protection Orders (CPOs) by State
- Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: EEOC Enforcement Guidance Item III B and C
- American Medical Women’s Association: A Need to Talk About Domestic Violence
- National Domestic Violence Hotline: Counseling for Domestic Violence Survivors
Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.