Doctor Formerly In Va. Applies For Tex. License

By Cheryl W. Thompson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 15, 2005

A former Virginia physician who moved from state to state to keep practicing, after she was forced out of hospitals in North Carolina and New Mexico when questions arose about her surgical skills, has applied for a license to practice in Texas, records show.

Pamela L. Johnson, an obstetrician and gynecologist, applied for a license last month, according to the Texas State Board of Medical Examiners. The board typically does not approve a license for a doctor who is not in good standing in other states, according to board spokeswoman Jill Wiggins. Johnson's Virginia license was suspended in 2003 after officials learned that the New Mexico board had suspended her license for lying about being fired from Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina.

"If she is indeed suspended, she would be deemed ineligible," Wiggins said. However, a final decision on whether to issue Johnson a Texas medical license probably won't be made for several months, Wiggins said.

Johnson, 46, did not respond to a message left on her phone in Texas.

A Washington Post investigation published in April found that Johnson was one of hundreds of doctors across the country who were facing problems in one state and simply moved and restarted their careers, despite a federally imposed tracking system known as the National Practitioner Data Bank. The data bank was created to prevent troubled doctors from moving around.

The newspaper's analysis of medical board records between 1999 and 2004 found that nearly two dozen physicians licensed in the District, Maryland and Virginia got into trouble in one jurisdiction and then moved elsewhere to practice. Nationally, 972 doctors during that period were disciplined in one state, then moved at least once and were punished again for a separate infraction, according to federal statistics.

Johnson was forced to leave her job at Duke in 2000 after officials there questioned her surgical skills and "high surgical complication rate." Duke officials failed to notify the data bank that she had been terminated and gave her letters of recommendation.

She then moved to Virginia and got a job with a medical practice and privileges at Danville Regional Medical Center. She quit after five months because she was not being paid enough and landed a job with a New Mexico medical group and privileges at Los Alamos Medical Center. She lied on her New Mexico application about losing privileges at Duke, but no one checked. By the time New Mexico realized she had lied and suspended her license, Johnson had moved to Michigan and obtained a license.

Six patients in North Carolina and New Mexico have filed malpractice claims against Johnson, including Ted Vives, whose wife, Gwyneth, died several hours after giving birth to a boy in December 2001.

"She's going to try to fly under the radar and get another license in another state and try and jump-start her career," Vives said in a phone interview yesterday from New Mexico. "How many states does this woman have to have her license suspended in before somebody takes notice?"

Johnson admitted Gwyneth Vives, 36, to the hospital and induced labor with the help of a midwife. Vives suffered a vaginal tear during delivery and other lacerations that caused profuse bleeding, according to a lawsuit filed by her husband.

She died from excessive blood loss because an amniotic fluid embolism, according to the autopsy. The lawsuit alleged that Johnson's "negligence and recklessness" contributed to Vives's death. Johnson has denied the allegations.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company