Physicians who cash in on a woman’s desire to be beautiful

Three young mothers under the age of 40 are dead because they wanted to be beautiful. Kellee Lee-Howard wanted a slimmer body. Ditto Maria Shortall and Rohie Kah-Orukatan. Shortall worked as a housekeeper; Lee-Howard was the mother of six kids and Kah-Orukotan died at the same place where she received manicures. What do these women have in common besides being minorities? They had liposuction procedures performed by men who offered a discounted price for an elective surgical procedure. These men professed to be competent in performing the procedures but never had accredited training.

I knew this day was coming. I saw the storm long before the clouds emerged. As the insurance payments for professional medical services decreased and declined, physicians began to look for alternative ways to earn money. But was it ethical? Gynecologists began to do liposuctions. General surgeons did breast augmentations. Some primary care physicians abandoned seeing patients altogether and opted to do chemical peels and weight loss treatments. Medical spas were added to traditional medical practices. Everyone wanted to cash in on a woman’s desire to be beautiful.  Physicians were now business owners and entrepreneurs.  However, could they  attend a weekend seminar and returns to their offices on Monday ready to do the procedures? Were they really as competent as a plastic surgeon who had five years of training?

Jayne O’Donnell recently published an expose about these doctors in USA Today entitled Lack of Training in Cosmetic Surgery Can Be Deadly. It reads like a litany of horror. The physician who performed Kah-Orukotan’s liposuction was an occupational health physician. He didn’t have the proper equipment in his office nor was the procedure approved for office surgery. Shortall and Lee-Howard’s physician did an internship in pediatrics, another internship and residency in general surgery but never got board certified in the 27 years that he has practiced medicine. Had these ladies accessed the Florida Board of Medicine website and looked up their physician, they would have noted the $350,000 settlement in 2004. They would have also noted the absence of board certification, the absence of plastic surgical training and the absence of privileges to admit to a hospital.

All three women died from complications of anesthesia. They had received too much lidocaine which is a numbing medicine given by injection prior to a surgical procedure. Too much lidocaine can also stop the heart. These deaths should have never happened.

Linda Burke-Galloway is an obstetrician-gynecologist and author of The Smart Mother’s Guide to a Better Pregnancy. She blogs at her self-titled site, Dr. Linda Burke-Galloway.

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  • Norman

    Although most physicians are honest and ethical, there have always been the whores in the medical profession.  I was an Rx salesman for 27 years (save the rude comments) during that time I had one G.P that started doing liposuction, another made his money doing abortions prior to it being legal, two that were legal drug pushers and another that was a psychiatrist that set up an integrative medical practice (whatever that is) he did chelation therapy for MS, diabetes and a host of other ailments.


    these disasters cry out for retribution and the medical community must formulate strategies to warn/inform the public of scams and bunko artists. this may trigger some harsh comments, but does not the same aroma of performing seals permeate the air of the greedy mortgage lenders that wrecked havoc with the subprime mortgage market as the charlatans preying on women’s vanity (and men are vain ,too, do not forget)? but, somewhere deep even in the most stalwart defender of consumer rights is the resonating refrain “how could you not have known this is wrong”? the libertarian mentality sees this as a issue of individual responsibilty, and a simple test, if you hear hoof beats in wyoming it is a horse, not a zebra. the current zeitgeist is so anti big pharma and skeptical of greedy, overpaid medical specialists that gullibility is rampant for “integrative” medical practice, a tinge of chinese herbal tea with your homeopathic dose of flower petal extract mixed in with megatonnage of antioxidants. are the unregulated purveyers of tens of billions of dollars of nonevidenced-based alternative therapy less culpable than other scammers? you can attack me with outrage that i am a troglyditic remnant of elitist medicine, but this old practitioner is very acquainted with the power of the placebo-effect, and this potency should be utilized. but let us not wage war over these “political” issues but focus on how all health care providors, insurers and government administrators and policy wonks can educate the public so these occurances can be prevented as opposed to being fodder for blogging adversaries. and by the way norman, my name is norman also

  • Linda Galloway

    I appreciate the passion of both comments. I implore both of you to spread your passion to other colleagues and the lay public so that disasters such as the ones described will never rear their ugly head again.

    • Norman

      Linda, they will always rear their ugly head again.  I would venture to say that as far as ethical behavior goes, physicians probably exhibit the most ethical behavior of any profession.  I have never personally experienced unethical behavior from a physician, I wish I could say the same about lawyers, police, mechanics, appliance repair people etc.  The only way to minimize being taken by unethical behavior is through education, you will never know as much as the professionals you deal with, but you should gain enough knowledge to understand if what they say makes sense.  I have a trusted internest as my doctor, should I need a medical procedure, I always ask for his recommendations of qualified professionals.

      • Linda Galloway

        I agree with you, Norman. I wrote a prenatal book to empower pregnant women to recognize potential red flags regarding their prenatal course and within the healthcare system as well. Really appreciate our discussion. Very thought provoking. I hope the topic inspires more future discussions.

  • Melissa Gastorf

    I get at least one offer a day for these weekend classes, or night time seminars.  If I add the weight loss seminars the number goes up drastically.  I actually went to one, got suckered into buying a lower potential for complication light, and signing up for learning how to give botox injections.  It is easy to do.  Add revenue enhancement to anything, and most physicians will at least take a look.  In my case, I changed my mind before the training actually happened, and I am still stuck with this light, that didn’t really work great, but no one got injured.  However, these offers are out there in great numbers.  And I think maybe it is the intelligence of the physician working against them. Most were at the top of their class for most of their lives, so of course I can pick this up in a weekend seminar.  Yet they would never choose their own surgeon that way.

  • Tom Fiala

    Good summary.  It begs the obvious question:  why don’t doctors police themselves better?  The system allow MD’s to do any procedure they like in their office, whether or not they are board-certified in that field, have hospital privileges or completed an ACGME-approved residency in that field.

    What do you tell your Ob-Gyn colleagues who have a medi-spa and offer tummy tucks?

    T Fiala, MD

  • Kathleen

    I am thoroughly appalled when I see the ‘services’ provided now by doctors with relation to anti-aging procedures as well as potentially life threatening enhancement surgeries. The advent of lasers in skin care took a positive turn towards offering women a little more, if they could afford it, than a vanity table loaded with skin creams. Specially trained R.N.’s were opening businesses and then before you knew it, the doctors, whatever specialty, cashed in.
    As an R.N. with 30 years of strong medical experience, I am sickened to see a well known vascular surgeon in my area now having ‘visiting hours’ at half a dozen beauty spas in the area. These services are billed in the thousands. This particular surgeon has remained foremost in my mind for a very high volume of post-op infection in his patients.
    What he’s doing and what others like him are doing is nothing more than financing a new boat while exercising control and furthering the internalization of insecurity and doubt in a world obsessed with physical beauty. At least if you’re going to offer to assist with the quality of someone’s life, have the credentials, the experience and the morality to back it up.

  • Anonymous

    If we don’t do a better job of monitoring ourselves as a profession, the public will insist further upon the government doing it instead. 

    I’d rather be judged by my peers than a bureaucrat.

  • Anonymous

    Where I live, there have been several physicians (not plastic surgeons) who offer things like liposuction, etc and have only gone to seminars for “training.” Talk about lucrative! These folks are able to run full page ads in some posh magazines.

  • jamesp

    The flip side of this argument, which implies lack of board certification is part of the problem, is that studies show the rates of death and complicatons is the same between BC and non BC Docs. So Linda, please save the propaganda.

  • Molly Ciliberti

    Well Jamesp, I would rather have a boarded physician caring for me than take the risk that someone with no real education and training could just wing it. I do think it is past time for physicians to weed out these frauds if for no other reason but to protect their honor and profession.

    • jamesp

      The ignorance of your comment is astounding, Molly. Aren’t you an RN? A state licensed,  non boarded medical doctor is a “fraud?” Really? You sure you dont want to retract that?

      I don’t defend irresponsible medical practice under ANY circumstances, but there is NO evidence that boarded Docs have better patient outcomes. This article is enlightening.

      Physicians Practice editor Bob keaveny wrote an excellent series on the disingenuous nature of certification. Too many good points to reiterate here. One ex.- If BC (board certification) is so critical to quality care, why were so many older docs allowed to grandfather (become certified without ever completing a residency) in?
      I put little faith in the integrity of the BC process. Why? The requirements for BC in some specialties are not just academic and moral, (complete the residency and be a good citizen) but political!

      One board requires the applicant to be a member of the AOA for the past three years. Paying membership dues has NO bearing on how “good” a Doc is.

       Perhaps the best argument against BC as a requirement for a successful practice- and believe me, it it TOUGH to practice without it as more and more insurance plans and employers buy into this nonsense- is Mr. Keaveny’s question- “Who certifies the certifiers? What makes them more qualified than those being examined by them?”

      You do realize, that an MD or DO who did one year’s post graduate training- an internship, in the 1980′s, and became board certified- call it “grandfathered” if you wish- has no more training than someone who graduated 5 yrs ago from med school, did a similar one year internship, got state licensed, but is not allowed to take any board exam of an American Board of Medical Specialties examining body?

      In other words, the emperor is almost naked since when these certifying boards agreed to certify the older GP’s (one year after med school of internship only) while demanding all future MD’s and DO’s complete a multi year, hospital based, residency training program- they admitted that a multi year residency is NOT needed to demonstrate competence.

    • Alice Robertson

      Molly…could you share data that shows a patient is safer with a board certified doctor?  I know this is a misnomer in many eyes….but in truth some of the best writings I have read online (and I read several hours a day….and have ran the gamut of dealing with a top hospital with board certified doctors who serve their careers, their dreams and ambition first, then the patients… have a bookshelve of medical best sellers here….to be honest….. the more honest the physician is the more terrified I become) and there are some very good articles from doctors who are not board certified (I have two close friends who are not….both are good doctors…and more important honest, amazing human beings….ashame it needs differentiating).   My daughter has had a neck dissection, and her thyroid removed and I paid out of pocket for cosmetic lasering……the whole floor of dermatology is filled with women who look like The Joker when they leave from fillers, etc.  I wish society valued inner beauty and virtue more. Like the moral of Frankenstein….sometimes just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should.  And Shakespeare’s poetic warnings of vanity ties in to:)

      I don’t know….I am certainly not against board certification…but when you read about the arse kissing and money involved, then read really informative writings from doctors who had to retire to find that kind of freedom of thought….a patient does worry.  All the writings claim to check out the board certification and doctor privileges….and some of the supposed medical professionals who post here are scary…..these people sound a bit petulantly vain…thinking their credentials give them the right to be arrogant…..can someone explain to me how board certification is not just a label of prestige?  

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