NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 25, 2009

A year ago, Sweden's most prestigious medical school, the Karolinska, found itself in an international uproar after it unknowingly admitted a student who was a Nazi sympathizer and a convicted murderer.  It is hard to imagine how the case could get any more bizarre.  But it has.  That same student, Karl Helge Hampus Svensson, has now been admitted to a second well-known medical school -- Uppsala, Sweden's oldest university, says the New York Times.

How did this happen?  Entry into Swedish medical schools is highly competitive, says the Times:

  • At Uppsala, there were 2,603 applicants for the 2009 spring semester and just 100 admissions, including Svensson.
  • But Svensson's past -- he was convicted of murder in 1999, was paroled after serving 6 1/2 years of an 11-year sentence and entered Karolinska in the fall of 2007 while still on probation -- proves deeply embarrassing.
  • Among other things, two senior faculty members on the admissions committee that interviewed him failed to ask for an explanation of the gap on his résumé, the period he was in prison.

But Swedish universities are legally prohibited from conducting background checks on applicants, and Swedish laws and customs are sympathetic to released offenders, saying that once they have served their time they should be treated like ordinary citizens.  The case raises questions about protecting the rights of patients and fellow medical students and health care workers, says the Times.

The Swedish medical licensing agency said that it would not allow Svensson to practice even if he earned his medical degree.  But the agency's jurisdiction excludes university work.  Another concern is the threat he might pose to patients who are immigrants, or their families -- long a target of neo-Nazi vilification.  Even as a student, he will have access to electronic medical records, which could potentially be misused, says the Times.

Source: Lawrence K. Altman, "A Quandary in Sweden: Criminals in Med School," New York Times, March 24, 2009.

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