The “Faulty” Physician

Having retired a few years ago, I have extra time to clean out my garage and reflect on a 35-year career in healthcare professional credentialing. Just out of college, forty years ago, I’d never heard the term “credentialing” and learned about it while on the job. I now know that sometimes doctors mess up. It’s not always their fault, but circumstances and poor influences weigh in. In my position, I was part of conversations among medical staff leaders who decided which doctors could join them on the medical staff of a hospital, and then once on staff, which ones were screwing up and how they would be disciplined. It can be a stressful job especially when hearing stories of patients who were harmed. Therefore, I had to try and find humor in some of the stories and tales I was “exposed” to.  

I sat at a table in the board room with the CEO of the hospital, the Chairman of Surgery, and medical staff leaders from Emergency Services, Internal Medicine, and Cardiology. When considering the professional history of a physician applying for privileges to care for patients in the hospital, the Credentials Committee considers medical education, training, and experience, but also any undesirable past experiences, e.g., malpractice claims, criminal offenses, and behavioral issues. On one particular day, the committee discussed a candidate who had a misdemeanor for peeing in public. In other words, “exposing himself” –to whom I don’t know, but he was caught. The women around the table found this a disgusting fault—poor judgment—and a crime that should not allow this man to practice in the hospital. All the men on the committee laughed heartily. “I do it all the time when walking my dogs!” “Me too!” “Why walk all the way home to pee when there’s a nice bush nearby?” The women rolled their eyes. Ultimately, the candidate was allowed to join the medical staff. Lesson: When walking your dog, if you see a guy standing near a bush, don’t stop, don’t look. It just might be your doctor.”

Another memory had to do with credentialing a surgeon. The process requires primary source verification of mostly every aspect of a physician’s professional history, past and present. In my attempt to verify this surgeon’s current professional practice, I called the office number listed in her application, to verify employment. When the woman on the other end answered the phone, I asked to speak with the practice manager, which she indicated was her. She added, proudly, that she was also the surgery scheduler and billing manager for this surgeon. “Great,” I said. “I’m requesting written verification of this surgeon’s employment, and I also need to know the names and addresses of the hospitals where she performs surgery since it was not provided on the application. I need to verify the physician’s status and quality of care provided within those hospitals.”  The sweet little voice responded, “Well, I am her mother, and I can absolutely vouch for her employment and her quality of care. The address of our office is: P.O. Box ####, City, State, Zipcode, and you can use this same address to verify her medical staff memberships.” Thinking she must have misunderstood my question, I probed, “but ma’am, I need to know the names and addresses of hospitals where she performs surgeries so I can verify her current competency.” She replied, “Again, it is P.O. Box ####, City, State, Zipcode.” This is all the information I was able to get from her. The conclusion was that a post office box is much too small a place in which to see patients or perform surgeries, so the doctor’s application was denied.  

Things I find humorous these days may not have the same effect on others who were not in my profession, but this experience occurred as I was perusing employment ads in the healthcare field. One that stood out was from the Catholic hospital where I began my career. In big bold print, it read “Faulty Physician: Looking for a faulty physician to provide clinical services in areas of specialty and to serve in pivotal academic research and leadership roles.” For someone like me who identified any type of fault within a physician’s professional practice, and who had retired from the industry, this was icing on the cake. I couldn’t stop laughing for several minutes. Intrigued by this, I checked back the next day, and apparently, I wasn’t the only one who noticed, as the ad was now looking for a “Faculty Physician.”  I can only hope that the faculty physician they hired will be discreet when peeing in public and will care for patients in a space larger than a post office box. 

Author: Leslie J. Cox

Leslie Cox is a writer of creative non-fiction, focusing on personal essay and memoir. Her essay “My Favorite Chair” was a runner up in the WOW! Women on Writing Q1 2020 Creative Nonfiction Contest, and she published two essays in “Her Vase” in 2020. Her essay "Distracted" appeared in the Pure Slush anthology: "Love, Lifespan," and she has enjoyed contributing to guest blogs and book reviews. Prior to semi-retiring from health care administration in 2019, Leslie wrote and published trade articles and a guidebook for health care professionals for HCPro. When she’s not writing, Leslie tutors students K-12 in the craft of writing, and that fills her up!

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