I remember that morning in January 2016 very well. I opened up my Twitter feed to find many people linking to an article that made me stop dead in my tracks. The New York Post was reporting that Dr. David Newman had been accused of sexually assaulting a patient in his emergency department. He was accused of giving the patient a dose of propofol and then sexually assaulting her.
My initial reaction was denial and anger. It wasn’t denial and anger that this happened but that it ever took place and that the media was reporting it before charges were filed. I will admit my initial reaction was, “This must have been a psychiatric patient off their medications. How can they publish this and drag his name through the mud before charges are filed!” There was no possible way this could be true. As an emergency physician, I imagined a scenario where a patient would falsely accuse me of something so terrible, and it shook me to my core.
For those outside of emergency medicine, David Newman was a rock star in our field. It seemed like every month he was speaking at a conference, talking on CME podcasts, or writing thoughtful articles in the lay press to help patients understand the medical system and calling for public health reforms. He hosted a free podcast that changed my practice in several ways and helped to create a website that I use on a frequent basis to teach my learners the value of many interventions.
David Newman preached a message that we needed to rebuild the trust of patients by having frank discussions with patients of the risk and benefit of all treatments. He railed against a system of overtesting and overdiagnosis that is plaguing our monstrous health system and driving a wedge in between doctos and patients. I’ll never forget when, as a third-year resident, I sent him an email about a recent patient who was caught in a loop of massive overtesting and he penned a thoughtful response within 12 hours. He was exactly the kind of physician I wanted to be. He was an advocate for our patients and a constant skeptic and truth seeker with the bravery to speak up about what is wrong in our health care system.
I hoped that these allegations were untrue and baseless. There were inconsistencies in the initial reporting. Maybe that was an indication that these heinous allegations weren’t true. For me, the nail in the coffin came about a week later when he turned himself into the police. During his walk into the police station, his stone-faced expression said it all. In my mind, the only way he could have redeemed himself was to get in front of any media outlet that would listen and unequivocally deny these allegations.
When that didn’t happen, I lost hope. The fear that these allegations were true came recently (almost a year later) when he plead guilty to the assault and groping three other patients. The women he harmed are certainly the most harmed victims, but patients, and emergency medicine as a whole have been betrayed as well. We lost one of our thought leaders and a role model for many young physicians, myself included. I especially feel for my colleagues who worked beside him and were directly mentored by him. My cynicism grew a little deeper due to this incident, and it has me wondering who in my professional circle will be next to betray the trust of their patients.
I’m left struggling with decisions about where to go from here. While most of what he has published online has been taken down, I certainly remember everything he taught me from afar. Can I teach these learning points to my learners without giving a disclaimer of where they came from? Can we separate the actions of the man from the valuable learning he imparted on us?
For me, I will continue to light my corner every day to rebuild that trust and make sure patients know that the emergency department is a safe place for them. I will find a way of putting the ideals that he preached and make them a reality, even if they ring hollow for me. Our patients deserve an advocate to step up and fill David Newman’s place and we can all fill that role in our everyday practice.
Steve Carroll is an emergency physician and runs the EM Basic podcast.
Image credit: am New York