Vanderbilt University Medical Center places resident on leave following complaints about social media activism

Nashville, Tenn.-based Vanderbilt University Medical Center placed a third-year resident on leave in early November following complaints by a patient's mother regarding his activism on social media, The Chronicle reports.

Eugene Gu, MD, was placed on administrative leave for two weeks beginning Nov. 9. He told The Chronicle he believed the action was taken against him after the mother of one of his patients complained about a photograph that went viral in September of him taking a knee to fight discrimination.

Though he has returned to work, Dr. Gu said he is still on probation until March 2018.

Emails between VUMC staff obtained by The Chronicle suggested Seth Karp, MD, professor and chairman of the department of surgery at VUMC, requested the mother's complaints be documented and sent to him by end-of-day Nov. 9. Dr. Gu was placed on leave the same day.

While VUMC denied The Chronicle's requests for comment, a Nov. 10 statement addressed to Dr. Gu and obtained by the publication stated officials were investigating "concerns about [the] safety of other employees ... complaints that VUMC has received from patients and external sources, and other related concerns."

The Nov. 10 statement also said officials were looking into allegations made by Dr. Gu regarding "situations in the workplace and [Dr. Gu's] personal safety." Dr. Gu claimed in a series of tweets Nov. 7 a fellow resident assaulted him while at work — allegations VUMC's legal counsel said were "factually inaccurate and misleading," the report states.

"Every opinion I have expressed, whether on Twitter, TV, or traditional print media, are neither controversial nor should be seen as damaging to Vanderbilt's reputation," Dr. Gu wrote in an email to The Chronicle. "I have been outspoken about defending women's rights, fighting white supremacy, supporting free speech and democracy, decrying workplace harassment and bullying, and supporting medical research. These are values that every major academic center would normally cherish."

Dr. Gu said he has repeatedly tried to transfer out of VUMC's residency program, but has not been able to thus far.

"I don't know how many residents would be able to withstand [the alleged harassment] and continue on with their day. The thing that keeps me going is that I really believe that the research I want to do and the type of surgeries I want to perform goes beyond me as an individual," Dr. Gu told The Chronicle. "This is my burden I have to shoulder in order to make a difference. It's worth it, but it's really hard."

A VUMC spokesperson told Becker's Hospital Review via email Wednesday the medical center generally declines to comment on internal matters. However, officials sought to clarify several issues and statements related to Dr. Gu.

"VUMC's actions concerning Dr. Gu have been consistent with this important institutional commitment. This includes thoroughly investigating every concern Dr. Gu has raised about his treatment and experience in the VUMC surgeryresidency program. The results of those investigations have been shared with him on numerous occasions," the spokesperson said.

The statement continued: "VUMC's actions relating to Dr. Gu's progress as a surgery resident have been and will continue to be based on his performance and his adherence to VUMC policies. Those actions have been carried out consistent with the requirements of the VUMC House Staff Manual, which establishes the process for evaluating the performance and progress of all residents at VUMC. That process also includes a robust appeal and review protocol for each resident who disagrees with actions taken by VUMC relative to his or her progress. Dr. Gu has been fully advised of his rights in that process and the steps he may take to have these actions reviewed."

"Finally, Dr. Gu has never been told that he must change his political views or the substantive content of his personal participation on social media platforms. He has been advised of the need to adhere to VUMC's social media policy, which requires that persons who are identified as representatives of VUMC clearly state that their views are their own. He has also been advised that resident physicians should be professional and respectful in their interactions and communications with and about one another," the spokesperson said.

To read full report from The Chronicle, click here.

Editor's note: This article was updated at 10:15 a.m. Jan. 10 to include a statement from Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

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