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Megan Brooks
Freelance Journalist
Weston, CT

Fredy Perojo
Medscape Photo Editor
New York City

Deborah Flapan
Director, Medscape Medical News
Chicago, Illinois


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Physicians of the Year 2016: Best and Worst

Megan Brooks; Fredy Perojo; Deborah Flapan  |  December 14, 2016

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Slide 1

Physicians of the Year 2016: Best and Worst

In 2016, physicians around the globe responded selflessly to people in need, often putting themselves in harm's way. They championed efforts to tackle lead poisoning, healed the physical and emotional scars of women gang-raped by rebel forces, and blew the whistle on sexual harassment in the workplace. Other physicians, however, brought disgrace to the profession. They murdered colleagues out of revenge, committed arson, and participated in unethical prescribing practices.

Image from iStock

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Image from iStock

Slide 3

Once-Discounted Flint Physician Heads Lead Poisoning Response

Pediatrician Mona Hanna-Attisha, MD, MPH, is a champion for Flint, Michigan, and its 100,000 residents beleaguered by lead-contaminated drinking water. Dr Hanna-Attisha leads a multidisciplinary task force that seeks to blunt the harm done to children there. This group, called the Pediatric Public Health Initiative, is looking beyond the immediate problem of safe drinking water and focusing on the "tomorrow problem," as Dr Hanna-Attisha puts it, of lead's neurotoxic effects on young children and their budding brains. As a mother of two young daughters and the wife of a pediatrician, Dr Hanna-Attisha can empathize with Flint parents whose young children have been exposed to unhealthy levels of lead. "In my clinic today, you could see the fear and trauma in their eyes," she said. "They don't know what tomorrow will bring." Dr Hanna-Attisha brings many qualifications to her job, and not just her medical resume. As a high schooler, she worked to shut down a trash-burning incinerator in her town that was triggering asthma. "I guess I have always known the power of people," she said. Dr Hanna-Attisha was named one of Time magazine's most influential people of 2016.[1]

Image courtesy of Michigan State University

Slide 4

2016 Country Doctor of the Year Built Rural Care Network

Family physician Jasmine Sulaiman, MD, who started a health clinic in an old flower shop in rural Cleveland, Texas, providing much-needed services to a largely uninsured population, is the 2016 Country Doctor of the Year. When Dr Sulaiman arrived in Cleveland (population of about 7700), the local hospital had just closed and access to patient care was severely limited. After seeing the depth of the uninsured and underinsured population, she set up the only clinic in town and began seeing patients 24/7. Her clinic grew into Health Center of Southeast Texas, and today she has several physician assistants and nurse practitioners working with her in a 6300-square-foot building. Health Center of Southeast Texas also expanded and now includes clinics serving three surrounding counties, all supervised by Dr Sulaiman. She also launched a program to upgrade medical care at the county jail, was instrumental in getting Health Center of Southeast Texas designated as a level 2 patient-centered medical home, and helped create an educational program that exposes local high school students to careers in healthcare.[2]

Image courtesy of Jasmine Sulaiman

Slide 5

Famed Texas Heart Surgeon Denton Cooley Died at 96

The world lost a true giant of heart surgery on November 18, with the passing of Denton A. Cooley, MD, at the age of 96. A world-renowned surgeon, Dr Cooley pioneered many techniques used in cardiovascular surgery. He founded the Texas Heart Institute in 1962 and performed the first successful human heart transplant in the United States in 1968. In 1969, he became the first heart surgeon to implant an artificial heart in a human. Dr Cooley and his associates have performed more than 118,800 open heart operations. He also pioneered techniques for the repair of aneurysms of the aorta and congenital heart problems in infants and children. His research team became widely known for developing and testing heart assist devices for patients awaiting transplants. Among his numerous honors and awards, Dr Cooley received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award, from President Ronald Reagan in 1984. He is the author or coauthor of more than 1400 scientific articles and 12 books.[3]

Image from Rick Bowmer/AP

Slide 6

Doctor Who Treats Rape Victims Shortlisted for Nobel Peace Prize

For the past several years, Denis Mukwege, MD, has been viewed as a strong candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. The 61-year-old gynecologist from the Democratic Republic of Congo founded and works in Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, the capital of Eastern Congo, where he specializes in treating women who have been gang-raped by rebel forces and the Congolese military. Considered the world's leading expert on how to repair the internal physical damage caused by gang rape, Dr Mukwege has treated more than 45,000 rape survivors. His healing approach goes far beyond the operating table. The model he pioneered is a five-pillar process that incorporates medical and psychosocial therapy, socioeconomic support and training, community reintegration, and legal assistance. Dr Mukwege has harshly criticized the Congolese government and other countries for not doing enough to stop what he called "an unjust war that has used violence against women and rape as a strategy of war." He survived an assassination attempt at his home in Bukavu, went into exile in Europe, and eventually returned to Panzi Hospital to continue his lifesaving work.[4]

Image from Christian Lutz/AP

Slide 7

Jury Awards $1M to MD Fired After Reporting "Sexual Predator"

In October, a jury in Cook County, Illinois, awarded $1 million to an emergency medicine physician who claimed his hospital fired him in 2011 for reporting that another physician was sexually harassing female residents, or so he believed. For Brett Ohlfs, MD, the trial was not about proving the allegation about his former colleague at Advocate Christ Medical Center in suburban Chicago, part of Advocate Health Care. The issue was whether Advocate retaliated against him for raising the issue. The jury said it did. Shortly after his dismissal, Dr Ohlfs and his wife and children moved to Redding, California, and he got a job at Shasta Regional Medical Center. Five years later, he describes what happened at Advocate as if it were a fresh wound. "I'm still kind of the black sheep," he said. "Money would never make me whole for what we've been through." What Dr Ohlfs alleged is nothing new. Three in 10 women in a survey of high-achieving medical academics said they experienced sexual harassment on the job, according to a recent study in JAMA.[5]

Image from Dreamstime

Slide 8

Henry Barnett, 'Pioneer' in Stroke Prevention Research, Dies at 94

Henry Barnett, MD, renowned neurologist, stroke prevention researcher, and cofounder of the Robarts Research Institute in London, Ontario, Canada, died in October at the age of 94. Three of his most acclaimed studies included the first large randomized trial to show that daily intake of aspirin can prevent recurrent stroke; the international extracranial-intracranial bypass surgery study, which showed that the procedure was actually not as beneficial as medical treatment; and the North American Symptomatic Carotid Endarterectomy Trial for symptomatic carotid stenosis. Dr Barnett has been called a founding father of modern stroke neurology; a giant in the field; and an expert clinician, teacher, and researcher. He spent 15 years as a neurologist at Toronto General Hospital, 3 years as chief of the Division of Neurology at Sunnybrook Medical Center, and 10 years as chair of the Department of Clinical Neurological Sciences at Western University and Victoria Hospital. He was an editor of Stroke, past president of the International Stroke Society, and an inductee into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame. He was also the first person outside of Europe to receive the Karolinska Stroke Award for Excellence in Stroke Research in 2008.[6]

Slide 9

Physician Dies After Patient Attack in Dallas Hospital

On June 30, an agitated male patient at Timberlawn Mental Health System in Dallas, Texas, violently attacked Ruth Anne MarDock, MD. Standing 6 feet tall and weighing 213 pounds, the man slammed the petite Dr MarDock to the floor. She struck her head, lost consciousness, and died 2 days later. Her death highlights the threat of workplace violence directed against healthcare workers, particularly in inpatient psychiatric facilities. Colleagues of Dr MarDock praised her as a doctor's doctor dedicated to serving society's down-and-outers. Her patients "never minded waiting to see her," which is unusual, one colleague said. Another remembered her as "warm and empathic, easy to talk to." Another colleague called Dr MarDock "an excellent physician" and a "consummate professional," noting that Dr MarDock dedicated her career to treating people who have addictions, the homeless, and those who have poor control over their impulses. Not everyone wants to do that.[7]

Image from Dreamstime

Slide 10

Detroit Gunshot Victim Saved by Doctor, Then Becomes One

Kevin Morton Jr was inspired to become a doctor by Dharti Sheth-Zelmanski, MD, a trauma surgeon who saved his life. In July 2007, Morton was in his car in Detroit just after midnight when a gunman emerged from the shadows and shot him. He was 22 at the time, a student at Oakland University and working at a local Arby's restaurant. The bullet passed through his stomach, diaphragm, pancreas, and two main blood vessels. He had a 10% chance of surviving. But that didn't put off Dr Sheth-Zelmanski and her team on duty at Detroit's St. John Hospital that night when she got word that a code 1 trauma patient was inbound. The trauma team worked through the night on Morton, successfully removing the bullet and stopping the bleeding. Morton spent nearly 2 months in the hospital and more than a year in recovery, an experience that inspired him to become a doctor. In 2016, nine years after that fateful night, at the age of 31, Morton graduated from Michigan State University's College of Osteopathic Medicine.[8]

Image courtesy of The Detroit News

Slide 11

D.A. Henderson, Who Led Effort to Eradicate Smallpox, Dies at 87

Donald Ainslie Henderson, MD, MPH, the epidemiologist who directed the World Health Organization vaccination effort that successfully wiped out smallpox throughout the world, launched international childhood vaccination programs, and later became a US bioterrorism expert, died in August at the age of 87. Dr Henderson served as dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health from 1977 to 1990. He has been called a "giant in public health" and a "force of nature." In 2001, Dr Henderson was named by then US President George W. Bush to head a newly formed Office of Public Health Preparedness, set up to coordinate the national response to public health emergencies, including a spate of anthrax attacks that took place at the end of that year. He received numerous honors and awards throughout his career, including, in 2002, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, and the National Medal of Science.[9]

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Slide 12

Paula Pareto: Physician and Gold Medalist

Paula Pareto, MD, had been a physician for about a year when she won her first gold medal in judo at the Rio Olympics in August. Dr Pareto won her first Olympic medal, a bronze, at the Beijing games in 2008, halfway through her academic career. And she studied at the University of Buenos Aires, a public university that boasted four Nobel laureates, whose school of medicine is one of the most demanding: The school's diploma is proudly displayed on walls in Argentina. For years, Dr Pareto studied morning, noon, and night, interspersed with two workouts a day. "The key was to make every minute count. When you do one thing knowing you have little time, you do it 100%, you learn to use the time well," Dr Pareto said.

"La Peque," as she was nicknamed in the sports media, referring to her small stature (4 feet, 9 inches tall and less than 106 pounds), became a sports celebrity. At one point, Dr Pareto had an enviable record of 22 wins and just 3 defeats.[10]

Image from Markus Schreiber/AP

Slide 13

Surprising Lessons Learned by a Physician-Turned-Patient

The morning of October 4, 2013, Philip Katz, MD, woke up feeling healthy, as usual. The 60-year-old gastroenterologist had never been a patient and had no remarkable medical history. But that evening, he had a cardiac arrest. In an instant, Dr Katz had become a patient, and his journey back to health would be long and immensely educational. "My view from the other side of the bed has given me insight into a part of medicine that I'd never experienced," Dr Katz told colleagues during the David Graham Lecture he delivered in October at the American College of Gastroenterology 2016 Annual Scientific Meeting. "I actually think I'm alive because of everything good about our profession. I believe I am the beneficiary of everyone doing their best. To me, that's our obligation every day — to be our best, no matter how freaking hard our job is," Dr Katz said. He also advised his colleagues to "Live life to the fullest, have no regrets, work your butts off, and enjoy your profession." The doctor-turned-patient also encouraged doctors to "understand and communicate in the best way you can with your patients. Validate their feelings and validate their illness. Be with them. Be empathetic if you can." Dr Katz received a standing ovation following his lecture.[11]

Image courtesy of Philip Katz, MD

Slide 14

For the first time this year, Medscape's editors have included a section for two physicians who are neither best nor worst because while they made news this year, the final decision in their cases is yet to come. We look forward to potentially being able to highlight those decisions in the 2017 edition of Physicians of the Year.

Image from iStock

Slide 15

Hospital Resident Fired for Having Cancer, Says Lawsuit

Stephanie Waggel, MD, is fighting kidney cancer and workplace discrimination. A former psychiatry resident at George Washington (GW) Hospital in Washington, DC, she is suing her ex-employer over unlawful workplace practices that occurred after she was diagnosed with kidney cancer, according to the lawsuit. The suit says that once the hospital became aware of the cancer, it began to "engage in a pattern of discriminatory conduct" against her. Dr Waggel, who started her residency in 2014, was dismissed from the program in May 2016 and was thus effectively fired from her job. Dr Waggel has said that her attending physician at GW told her on the day of her cancer diagnosis, "You need to choose whether you are a doctor or a patient." Dr Waggel rejects this binary setup, arguing, "I want future physicians to not be forced to choose...." Sometimes, doctors are both, she said.[12]

Slide 16

Indian Doctor Accused of Crimes Becomes President of World Medical Association

The World Medical Association (WMA), the top medical-ethics body, installed an Indian doctor facing corruption charges as its president, despite controversy surrounding his appointment while legal cases are pending. A statement released by the WMA said Dr Ketan Desai, a urologist by training, delivered his inaugural speech as president on October 21 at the association's annual assembly in Taiwan. He will serve in the position for 2016-2017. After he was first selected in 2009 as a future president of the WMA, Dr Desai faced conspiracy and corruption allegations. He has denied any wrongdoing in connection with the pending cases. An overburdened and under-resourced Indian judiciary system means court cases can drag on for years in the country. Based in France, the WMA sets ethical standards for physicians worldwide and represents millions of doctors. Known for its pioneering work in ethics, its members include the American Medical Association and the British Medical Association.[13]

Image from Parveen Negi/India Today Group/Getty Images

Slide 17

Image from iStock

Slide 18

Nebraska Physician Convicted of First-Degree Murder

In October, a jury in Omaha, Nebraska, convicted Anthony Joseph Garcia, MD, on four counts of first-degree murder. Prosecutors said Dr Garcia committed the murders as revenge for his firing from the Creighton University pathology department in 2001. Dr Garcia was on trial for the murders of 11-year-old Thomas Hunter, son of William Hunter, MD, who fired Dr Garcia from Creighton, and Shirlee Sherman, the family housekeeper, and the murders of Dr Roger and Mary Brumback. Roger Brumback, then chair of the Creighton pathology department, also had a role in Garcia's firing. The firing had negative repercussions for Dr Garcia in a checkered medical career, factoring into failed attempts to get licensed in Indiana, California, and Louisiana and to complete a psychiatry residency program in the last state. Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer declined to say whether Dr Garcia had other Creighton University physicians in his sights but noted that he "fit the elements of a serial killer."[14,15]

Image courtesy of Omaha Police Department

Slide 19

Physician Pleads Guilty to Torching Rival's Office

Anthony Moschetto, DO, a cardiologist on Long Island, New York, had a business problem with a colleague-turned-rival, which landed him in court. In October, Dr Moschetto pleaded guilty to setting fire to the other physician's office in Great Neck, New York, and conspiring to have him beaten up. But it was more complicated than that. Prosecutors said that a police investigation of illegal oxycodone prescriptions written by Dr Moschetto unexpectedly uncovered a murder-for-hire plot targeting an unnamed fellow cardiologist with whom Dr Moschetto had practiced for 20 years. He vacillated between killing and merely assaulting the other physician before settling on the latter by the time of his arrest on April 14, 2015. Dr Moschetto had enough tools at his disposal for all sorts of havoc. When police searched his mansion in Sands Points, New York, they found roughly 100 weapons, including rifles with illegal, high-capacity magazines; knives; and a grenade. Many of them were stored in a secret room behind a switch-activated moving bookshelf. Dr Moschetto was scheduled to be sentenced December 16, but the hearing was postponed. As of press time, a new date had not yet been set.[16,17]

Image courtesy of Nassau County Police Department

Slide 20

Physician Gets 30-Year Sentence for Overdose Murders

Hsiu Ying "Lisa" Tseng, DO, made dubious medical history in October 2015 when she became the first US physician to be convicted of murder for overprescribing drugs that resulted in the overdose death of a patient. In early February this year, Dr Tseng was sentenced to 30 years to life in prison in a case that began with a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigation in 2008. A jury had found her guilty of three counts of second-degree murder in the deaths of three young California men. She was also found guilty of 19 counts of illegally prescribing a controlled substance and one count of obtaining a controlled substance by fraud. Nine of Dr Tseng's patients died within a 3-year period, during which her California practice took in more than $5 million, according to state prosecutors. For many patients, there were no records of office visits or prescriptions, although Dr Tseng began fabricating records once authorities started looking into her medical practice.[18]

Image from Nick Ut/AP

Slide 21

Physician Charged in Pill Mill Scheme Found Dead

Alfred Ramirez, MD, a New York psychiatrist accused of illegally prescribing 10,000 tablets of oxycodone, sometimes from the front seat of his gold Lexus, was found dead in his home October 16. Dr Ramirez had pleaded not guilty to federal charges of illegally distributing oxycodone and other controlled substances that prosecutors said had resulted in at least one overdose death. Police did not find signs of foul play when they discovered Dr Ramirez's body at his home in Monroe, New York. The federal charges against Dr Ramirez stemmed from a 5-month investigation in 2015 spearheaded by the DEA. In a complaint filed September 30, 2015, in the federal district court in New York City, DEA Special Agent Michael Muller said that Dr Ramirez had conspired with co-defendant James Cooney to illegally distribute oxycodone, alprazolam (Xanax), and other drugs. In some instances, Dr Ramirez allegedly wrote scripts for individuals without conducting a physical exam. He would see customers as late as 10 pm, charging anywhere from $150 to $400 in cash for his signature on prescriptions.[19]

Image from Dreamstime

Slide 22

Victims Seek Payments as 'Dr. Death' Declares Innocence

As of November 22, more than 500 former patients and their families had filed claims against Farid Fata, MD, the Detroit-area oncologist convicted of raking in over $17 million by poisoning patients with chemotherapy and other drugs they did not need. Dr Fata, dubbed "Dr Death" by his victims, was branded by prosecutors as "the most egregious fraudster" in US history for scamming Medicare and private insurers by giving at least 553 patients, some of whom did not have cancer, thousands of doses of unnecessary and expensive drugs. But Dr Fata insists he did nothing wrong, saying victims claiming he killed loved ones or ruined their lives are misguided and that those who died were "going to die anyhow because of the nature of the diseases." Dr Fata is serving a 45-year sentence in a federal prison in South Carolina after pleading guilty to 13 counts of healthcare fraud, 1 count of conspiracy to pay or receive kickbacks, and 2 counts of money laundering.[20]

Image from Carlos Osorio/AP

Slide 23

Psychiatrist Jailed for Taking Drug Industry Kickbacks

In March, Michael J. Reinstein, MD, an Illinois-based psychiatrist, was sentenced to 9 months in federal prison and ordered to pay nearly $600,000 for accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in drug industry kickbacks. He was convicted of accepting payments from industry in the form of consulting fees, entertainment, and all-expenses-paid vacations in exchange for prescribing and promoting first the brand-name version and then the generic version of the antipsychotic clozapine (multiple brands) to thousands of indigent elderly patients in nursing homes and hospitals. Dr Reinstein was also ordered to forfeit $592,000 and perform 120 hours of community service after his release from federal prison. In 2015, the 72-year-old psychiatrist pleaded guilty to one count of violating the federal Medicare and Medicaid Anti-Kickback Statute. In the early 2000s, he was the largest prescriber of clozapine to Medicaid recipients in the United States. "Reinstein abused his position of public trust as a physician and took advantage of the faith and trust of his mentally ill patients in order to enrich himself," Assistant US Attorney Eric S. Pruitt said in the government's sentencing memorandum.[21]

Image from iStock

Slide 24

Florida Oncologist Faces 500 Years in Prison

Florida oncologist Diana Anda Norbergs, MD, 61, faces more than 500 years in prison for unethical prescribing practices and fraud. In November, the former owner and operator of East Lake Oncology, a cancer treatment clinic located in Palm Harbor, Florida, was convicted of smuggling unapproved and misbranded drugs into the United States and giving them to her patients. She would then also bill Medicare and other insurers for the more expensive US versions. A 2-week trial that ended on November 16 heard evidence that Dr Norbergs ordered and directed others working at the practice to order drugs from foreign distributors. This included drugs from Quality Specialty Products that were not registered with or approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. A federal jury found her guilty of all 45 criminal charges that were levied against her, including receipt and delivery of misbranded drugs, smuggling goods into the United States, healthcare fraud, and mail fraud.[22]

Slide 25

Pill Mill Doctor to Serve Jail Time

In August, Tressie M. Duffy, MD, a West Virginia physician, was sentenced to a year and a day in jail after pleading guilty to seven felonies for illegal distribution of oxycodone. The sentence, along with an $18,200 penalty, was handed down in late June. Dr Duffy practiced at West Virginia Weight and Wellness Inc, a family medicine clinic in Martinsburg, West Virginia. She was facing up to 20 years for each count, plus a fine of up to $1 million for each count. Dr Duffy, 46, has a history of scrapes with the law going back to at least 2009. She also had been censured three times by the West Virginia Board of Medicine. That was before she pled guilty in December 2015 — the result of a US Attorney's Office investigation. A 100-count indictment issued in 2014 charged Dr Duffy and two coworkers with illegally issuing 157 prescriptions for oxycodone, oxymorphone, methadone, and methylphenidate between 2010 and 2012. According to the 2014 indictment, Dr Duffy left signed, blank prescription forms for coworkers to issue narcotics — without her ever seeing a patient.[23]

Image from Dreamstime

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