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ECFMG: detecting fraudulent physician credentials

Kara Oleyn J.D., Vice President, Programs & Services, ECFMG, USA

For more than 35 years, the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG®) has employed a rigorous primary source verification (PSV) process to verify the credentials of international medical graduates (IMGs). This has led to the detection of numerous cases of fraudulent credentials.

Certification by ECFMG is required for IMGs to enter US post-graduate training and pursue medical licensure. ECFMG also work with regulators around the world to conduct PSV for their IMG applicants. The certification process includes PSV of medical education credentials, among other requirements. In 2020 alone, ECFMG verified 60,000 credentials from 180 countries.

Part of our verification process includes investigating cases where credentials may be fraudulent. ECFMG detects these credentials through multiple check points, including prima facia review, investigation of tips, and direct verification with issuing authorities.

Examples of such cases include individuals who have misrepresented their education by changing grades or altering attendance history; embellished clinical experience by presenting volunteer experience as formal training; altered their identity to obtain a clean record for exams or licensure; and fabricated credentials down to the apostille.

While the majority of fraudulent credentials are identified through responses from the issuing institution, other red flags may include missing/incorrect signatures and seals; discrepancies in format, language or terminology; and mismatched applicant information.

Not limited to a specific country, the mobility of the physician workforce increases the opportunity for fraudulent credentials. Over the past five years, ECFMG has investigated 137 cases of fraudulent credentials from physicians in more than 40 countries who were seeking to practice in several different countries.

ECFMG has a process to adjudicate such cases and once a credential has been determined to be fraudulent, will notify U.S. and international regulators of the finding, along with including a note on all physician verification reports, to ensure that only qualified physicians enter health care systems.