August 8, 2019

He was jailed as a 'fake doctor.' 20 years later, he's a real MD.

Daily Briefing

    Adam Litwin has wanted to be a doctor since he was a child—so much so, that in 2000, he went to jail for impersonating one. Now, almost 20 years later, he's graduated from medical school, but he still has to overcome his checkered past, Soumya Karlamangla writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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    He pretended to be a doctor for months

    After high school, Litwin did clinical rotations as part of a pre-med program at St. Louis University, which he recently recalled as being one of "the happiest" times of his life.

    But once those rotations ended, he became depressed and couldn't focus on his work, Karlamangla writes. As a result, Litwin dropped out of college and, in 1998, moved to the San Fernando Valley.

    Litwin said he felt horrible that he could never become a doctor, but still was in love with medicine, and not long after dropping out of college, he started going over the medical text books in the library of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

    At one point, someone in the library mistook Litwin for a medical resident. Rather than setting the record straight, Litwin lied, telling the person he was a surgery resident who'd recently transferred from a nearby hospital.

    Litwin then adopted the fake identity of a resident at UCLA Medical Center. Every day, Litwin arrived at UCLA at 5:30 a.m. to do rounds with the residents, though he said he was always careful never to touch or treat a patient. Litwin even parked in the doctors' parking lot using a parking pass he stole from another physician, and occasionally slept in the on-call rooms.

    While Litwin tried to blend in, his lab coat stood out. It had a silk-screened picture of his face and name. He had gotten it at a pharmaceutical conference and wore it because it was the only one he had, Karlamangla writes.

    The unusual lab coat raised suspicion, and after he attempted to forge prescriptions using the name of a urologist who shared his last name, a pharmacist became suspicious. Litwin also drew the suspicion of a medical center supervisor who noticed she could never read Litwin's ID badge because it was always obscured with a meal ticket.

    By June 1999, Litwin was caught and arrested.

    It's unclear how long Litwin pretended to be a doctor at UCLA. He claims it was nine months though prosecutors in his case said it was six.

    A year after he was arrested, Litwin pleaded guilty to three misdemeanors: forging a prescription, impersonating a doctor, and stealing state property, Karlamangla writes. He was sentenced to six months of psychiatric counseling and two months in jail.

    The journey to becoming a doctor

    After his release, Litwin moved to the Bay Area and went to therapy, Karlamangla writes.

    By 2012, Litwin was ready to enter medicine in earnest. He enrolled in St. James School of Medicine in Bonaire. "My love and my passion for medicine persevered and I said to myself, 'You know what? This is my dream,'" he said.

    Last year, Litwin graduated from medical school and now lives in Chicago, where he completed his third- and fourth-year medical school rotations, Karlamangla writes.

    Trying to escape his past

    While Litwin has graduated from medical school, his past has proven to be an obstacle in his career, Karlamangla writes.

    Last year, Missouri's medical board denied his application for a license, saying they couldn't believe he spent as much time at UCLA as he did and not treat a patient.

    "The lack of complete forthrightness about the incident in the UCLA Medical Center reflected negatively on your credibility and weighed against a finding of sufficient rehabilitation," the medical board wrote. Litwin is appealing their decision.

    Last fall, Litwin applied to residency programs in surgery and family medicine, Karlamangla writes, but again, his past got in the way, and it wasn't just the incident at UCLA.

    In early 1998, Litwin was caught shoplifting, and when his lawyer asked for a letter showing good character, Litwin forged one, pretending to be the head of the National Board of Medical Examiners.

    Once the letter was identified as a forgery, it was sent to the medical examiners board to keep on file. So when he took his board exams in 2014, his scores were flagged. After Litwin explained the situation, the agency decided to let his score stand. However, the bottom of his exam score notes that "this individual engaged in irregular behavior," with a memo explaining the forged letter and UCLA incidents.

    In March, Litwin was rejected from every residency program he applied to. Litwin said he'll reapply next year but may switch to psychiatry programs, as graduates of foreign medical schools are more often accepted into those programs, Karlamangla writes.

    According to Anupam Jena, a Harvard Medical School professor, Litwin's biggest obstacle may not be his past, but the fact that he graduated from a foreign medical school. Fewer than 60% of foreign medical school graduates matched into residency programs this year, compared to 94% of graduates from the United States, Karlamangla writes.

    "It's not like this is a violent crime he committed—it's a strange crime," Jena said. "I could certainly imagine a residency program giving him a shot" (Karlamangla, Los Angeles Times, 8/7; Morin, Los Angeles Times, 4/8/2000).

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