Protecting Patients from Sexual Abuse

An orthopedic surgeon and his wife recently made headlines for drugging and raping women. The NPR article makes no mention of revoking his physician’s license, though if he serves the maximum sentence (of only 30 years for possibly thousands of women!!!) it is unlikely he would be able to continue practicing. The article does make a reference to his position as a physician establishing a sense of trust in his victims.

After 2 years, prosecutors were finally able to convict Dr. Shafeeq Sheikh of raping a heavily sedated patient while she was hospitalized. He was fired from the hospital and his license was suspended. He served no jail time. Unfortunately, Texas does not require permanent revocation unless a doctor agrees or when a doctor permanently surrenders his or her license in lieu of further investigation. He could potentially re-apply in a year.

These headlines are unfortunately not uncommon. Sexual assault and rape are hot-button issues in the US right now, particularly sparking outrage when rapists and sexual predators receive little to no punishment for their actions. There should be even greater outrage against physicians who take advantage of their position and their patient’s vulnerabilities.

There are watchdog organizations focused specifically on appropriate legislation and punishment of physician-offenders. Per one website, Arizona only scored 66%, but ties Massachusetts and Ohio at number 10 best patient protection states in the country. Mississippi is the worst, and Delaware is the best.

In Delaware:

  • Duty-to-report laws require any healthcare worker aware of an offense to report the physician within 30 days, or else pay hefty fines.
  • Physicians who have committed felony sexual offenses have their licenses permanently revoked.
  • Doctors must undergo background checks with fingerprinting, updated every 6 months.

In Arizona:

  •  Incidents reported by other hospital or clinic staff do not need to be made within a specific time period, and there is no requirement to report these offenses to the medical board.
  • State law does not require revocation for any type of sexual misconduct or convictions.
  • The medical board cannot refuse to issue a license based on previous criminal acts.

In Mississippi:

  • There are no criminal laws specific to sexual misconduct for physicians.
  • State law does not require physicians to report possible violations by fellow doctors.
  • Doctors whose licenses are revoked can reapply at “reasonable intervals.”
  • State law doesn’t require revocation for any type of sexual misconduct or convictions.

Physicians are with patients at their best in worth. They establish trust with a patient, and that patient trusts their physician to provide the best care possible without taking advantage of their vulnerabilities. When a physician rapes or assaults a patient, they violate that trust and the trust future patients would have given. Those physicians guilty of such crimes have violated the fundamental vow of doctors- “Do no harm.” I cannot fathom how a felony sex offender, a rapist, would in good conscious be allowed to continue practicing.

The laws need to change. We need to make hospitals responsible for the behavior of the physicians they hire. Physicians, patients, and staff should be able to anonymously and quickly report inappropriate and unacceptable behavior. The physicians responsible for these heinous acts should be punished severely, including the loss of their right to practice medicine.

Does anyone have any suggestions on how to get Arizona laws regarding license revocation altered?

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