Physicians disgrace the University of Wisconsin with fake doctor notes


One of the stories circulating regarding the demonstrations in Wisconsin is the authenticity of the doctor work notes.

Squarely in the cross-hairs are physicians from the University of Wisconsin’s Department of Family Medicine.

According to this excellent piece in The Atlantic by physician-writer Ford Vox,

In videos breathlessly presented throughout the conservative mediasphere this weekend, doctor after doctor is videotaped writing patently fraudulent sick notes so that the protesting teachers (whose contracts specify that missing work without an excuse can result in dismissal) can keep marching on against the state’s union-busting Republican government.

After viewing the videos at my request last night, Dr. Arthur Derse called me up exclaiming, “Holy mackerel! It’s much worse than it looked in the paper. I’m stunned, absolutely stunned.” Dr. Derse is the Director of Center for Bioethics and Medical Humanities a the Medical College of Wisconsin. “When all’s said and done, it’s really the profession of medicine that has the black eye in this case,” he says.

Some physicians from the University of Wisconsin were even giving work notes during the demonstrations.  Associate Professor Lou Sanner says “he’s giving out sick notes for ‘stress’ (not a medical diagnosis). He claims he’s forming doctor-patient relationships in his slapdash street encounters with apparently healthy protesters.”

That’s absurd.

I’ve written in the past that politics and medicine must have clear separation.  That clearly didn’t happen here.  As Dr. Vox observes, “these doctors sacrificed a slice of the medical profession’s credibility for a political cause.”

And from watching the videos, these physicians didn’t think much about the consequences of their actions — instead, letting the political momentum of the moment cloud their medical judgement:

One of the unidentified young physicians tells an inquisitive local libertarian organization called the MacIver Institute, “We are here writing doctor’s notes to support our public employees who have been mentally anguished and distressed this last week and needed to be out here for their mental health.” Medically speaking, that’s comedy.

The fallout is building, with the Wisconsin Medical Society looking into the matter.

No matter what happens, these doctors have disgraced the profession along with the University of Wisconsin Department of Family Medicine, and deserve whatever punishment that the University and Medical Society sees fit.

Politics should never be allowed to dictate medical decision making, and these physicians should know better.  Hopefully after this embarrassment, they do now.

 is an internal medicine physician and on the Board of Contributors at USA Today.  He is founder and editor of, also on FacebookTwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn.


View 58 Comments >

Most Popular

✓ Join 150,000+ subscribers
✓ Get KevinMD's most popular stories