Latino resident physician fired from Johns Hopkins Hospital
The Latino Journal E-News, Sept 7, 2009
Dr. Oscar Serrano is a former Johns Hopkins Hospital (JHH) surgical resident who was featured in the ABC documentary "Hopkins 24/7" is now suing his former employer for 24 million dollars. His suit alleges that he was unlawfully terminated and defamed by JHH officials in an effort to cover up problems with their highly reputable residency program. At a time when the U.S. and the Latino community especially, need physicians, this lawsuit appears to be uncovering a potential snag on how residency programs operate.
Serrano, 30, immigrated with his family to the U.S. when he was 10. His success in school landed him at the prestigious Standford University School of Medicine, where he graduated from, with honors, in 2006. He was signed by JHH to an eight-year surgical residency until April of 2009 when he was fired by JHH officials, Dr. Pamela A. Lipsett, director of the general surgery residency program, and Dr. Julie Ann Freischlag, chief of surgery, who are named separately in the suit.
"If the facts submitted as evidence in this case are reflective of what actually took place, the integrity tenets of the entire surgical training program at Hopkins has been violated," says Dr. Robert Beltran, President of the Latino Med Policy Institute. "Although these cases are rare, they must not be ignored because the outcome will determine policies, processes and systems that will impact surgical training programs across the country."
While at JHH, Dr. Serrano had received "excellent" evaluations during his two years of clinical residency and was the only first-year resident asked to appear on "Hopkins 24/7," an ABC News documentary about the hospital. He was the only resident featured in a hospital-wide United Way campaign for the surgery department and had been elected to a leadership position on a resident committee by his peers. But it was "what appeared to be the administration's effort to cover up the existing problems within the residency program," the lawsuit states.
In the spring of 2008, Lipsett and the administrative chief resident (who is not a defendant) attempted to coach surgical residents as they responded to a survey from the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME), the lawsuit states. The survey is designed to gather unfiltered information from residents to ensure compliance with ACGME standards on working conditions and practical experience. Any negative feedback from ACGME generally requires a program to reform some aspect of the program and reflects badly on the individuals in charge of the program (specifically, Dr. Lipsett and Dr. Freischlag). Serrano objected to "what appeared to be the administration's effort to cover up the existing problems within the residency program," the lawsuit states.
After receiving an anonymous complaint that residents were working more than the maximum number of weekly hours allowed, fearing retaliation for speaking up, and not being allowed to handle a sufficient number of surgical procedures, the ACGME opted to revisit JHH earlier this year. JHH officials then blamed Serrano for the anonymous complaint, then fired him because of mental health problems, a charge denied in Serrano's lawsuit and by his lawyer.
"Even if we go to trial and win, there are always going to be people as a result of this think he is mentally ill, and there is zero basis for that," said Andrew D. Levy of Brown, Goldstein & Levy LLP in Baltimore.
"This case needs to be brought to the attention of all key stakeholders in the field of post graduate physician training that are impacted by decision to terminate physician residents," add Beltran. "Workforce diversity studies and the under supply of Latino Physicians in the United States further supports the need for Latino post graduate training residents to be valued and supported since the need is so great and the supply is so few."