Discipline Proper for Doctor’s Rude Comments

     (CN) – A cardiologist was correctly disciplined for joking with a nurse that she should leave her husband and have his baby, an Iowa appeals court ruled.
     Dr. Amjad Butt also made offensive comments and threatened to “crush” another nurse at Medical Associates in Clinton, according to the ruling.
     The Iowa Court of Appeals upheld rulings by the Iowa Board of Medicine and a Polk County judge.
     It also found, however, that Butt’s punishment should be reduced because the evidence does not show he harassed another nurse with repeated phone calls.
     The appeals court overturned the finding that Butt had made harassing calls to another nurse, accepting the doctor’s explanation.
     “I felt sorry that I threatened to fire her, so I called her on the phone to apologize for the argument and to tell her I was not in position to fire her,” Butt wrote in a letter to the board. “This occurred during several phone calls with her. … After several phone calls, she eventually stated that she would return to work.”
     Writing for a three-member panel, Justice David Danilson said “unwanted calls may not be the same as harassing calls.”
     “Logically speaking, we conclude that it is fair to say that every harassing call is unwanted; however, the obverse may not be true,” Danilson wrote. “By all indications, Dr. Butt was calling to apologize to Smith.”
     The evidence additionally does not show that Butt asked another doctor to contact this nurse on his behalf, according to the ruling.
     Danilson insisted that this charge relied on hearsay evidence.
     Though Butt denied joking that another nurse should leave her husband, the court found this denial “was not credible.”
     Danilson quoted and adopted the opinion of the district court: “This type of comment is clearly unprofessional in a work setting, even if both parties understand it is only meant to be a joke. What may be funny to some people may be deeply offensive to others and in general sets a bad example and precedent in work setting.”
     On remand, the lower court must reconsider Butt’s punishment in light of the partial reversal.
     Butt had previously rejected an offer to settle the issue by paying a $10,000 fine, although he did agree to take a polygraph test and an evaluation by the Behavioral Medicine Institute.
     In a brief concurring opinion, Presiding Justice Doyle chided the Board of Medicine for stating on its report form that Butt’s actions could have adversely affected a patient.
     “I would hope that in the future the board, in exercising its considerable power affecting the livelihood of medical professionals, would exercise more restraint than has been shown here,” Doyle wrote.

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