At the firm we get calls from all types of licensees from jurisdictions around the country.  Many individuals, having had no problems in other states, are surprised when California denies their license application or comes after their license.  This has led us to often observe that California may be the strictest state for license discipline.   But is California really the strictest?  Mostly, it depends upon what type of license you have.

California’s Medical Board is famously strict.  The background questions on the Med Board’s application are extensive.  The background check is thorough.  Any blemish on an applicant’s record, it seems, is cause for further investigation and often denial.  The Medical Board looks for mental illness, substance abuse, chemical dependency, deviancy, anger problems, lack of skill, dishonesty, etc., etc.  It is not surprising that almost 1,000 applications out of 5,000 are denied.

In contrast, California’s nursing boards (registered nursing and vocational nursing) seem to be more lenient.  In part, this could be due to California’s famous nursing shortage and mandated nurse-patient ratios.  However, this could be changing.  California’s nursing boards have come into criticism for not checking into the backgrounds of nurse license applicants, leading to, among other stories, a nurse who is validly licensed while in prison.

Another notable “strictest” is the California Department of Insurance.  If I only had a dime for every call where someone had “no trouble at all” with the 30 other states that had licenses from, only to encounter problems with California.  But who can blame the Department of Insurance?  After the Chuck Quackenbush scandal, where our Commissioner went easy on disciplining insurance companies that supported him politically, the Department of Insurance still wants to avoid any appearance of impropriety at all costs.

One area where California seems to be the leader is in splashing license discipline all over the internet.  These efforts range from the Medical Board’s e-mail notifications to posting disciplinary documents on the internet by most boards and departments.  It is also little-known that most California licensing agencies have the option of pressing ahead with license discipline even when an applicant wishes to withdraw an application or a licensee want to surrender a license.  Once a board has learned of an applicant’s or licensee’s problem, they close off the exits.  Not allowing for a quiet resolution by withdrawal or surrender, they insist on making a public record of license discipline.  In this post-practical obscurity age, California leads the way in publicizing its licensees shortcomings for the good of the public.  We’ll talk about practical obscurity in another blog.

So is California the strictest?  I think so.  As long as our golden shores beckon to professionals all over this country and the world, we can afford to be strict.  Not only is our native population overflowing – our great weather, huge market for services, and diversity make California irresistable.  So long as this is true, California licensing agencies will probe for faults, expose and punish.  It is sad that I must, from time to time, tell a client – “go east – they’re more forgiving over there.”