A prominent cardiologist in Fair Lawn, New Jersey was recently indicted on six counts of criminal sexual misconduct with his patients.
As an attorney who has practiced in the area of medical malpractice law for over 30 years—and who has been directly involved in cases all too similar to this one—it is apparent to me that this kind of behavior occurs more often in the medical profession than we’d all like to think.
We all have an image of doctors and medical professionals as caring people who have chosen careers to help others, and the overwhelming majority are. As a result, health care providers are considered among the most trusted of professionals. Indeed, the very nature of their jobs results in patients sharing highly personal information and allowing examination of the most private aspects of themselves.
The enormity of the trust required to engage in a doctor-patient relationship is perhaps precisely the reason why people who have a propensity for compulsive deviance to commit sexual abuse can be drawn to professions like medicine: they can assume positions as trustworthy providers of care and gain access to potential victims.
Though they may be far from common occurrences, these rare incidents are still too frequent, especially if they can be prevented. The medical profession needs to be on guard to the possibility of sexual predators among its ranks. Yet, too often, warning signs are overlooked. Take, for instance, two of the biggest cases of doctors who committed sexual abuse in recent history:
- The Dr. Nikita Levy case, where this Johns Hopkins gynecologist was found to be secretly photographing hundreds—perhaps thousands—of his patients, some of them underaged.
- The case of Delaware pediatrician Earl Bradley, who was convicted in 2011 of sexual assault. Dr. Bradley may have abused nearly 1,000 children, causing many to call this “the worst case of single perpetrator sexual abuse in the country.”
In both cases, Schochor, Federico and Staton served as lead counsel for the victims, which resulted in major class action settlements. I know from first-hand experience in those cases that there were red flags raised by these doctors’ conduct that went unheeded by their peers and the facilities where they practiced. As a result, the abuse continued and the number of victims grew.
In the case of Dr. Levy, he frequently conducted gynecological examinations without a female chaperone in the room, in direct violation of hospital policy. In Dr. Bradley’s case, his sister actually warned the medical board that she suspected he was a pedophile—a warning which was ignored.
Health care institutions need to do a better job of monitoring those being trusted to provide patient care. The profession as a whole needs to be more proactive in educating the public about the warning signs of aberrant behavior, establish clear lines of reporting when someone suspects there may be a problem, and swiftly respond to complaints suggesting inappropriate behavior.
It’s the least the medical profession owes its patients—especially when patients put so much trust in their medical providers.