20 June 2012

Is this person really a doctor?

Is the person coming towards you with an injection needle really a doctor? Sometimes bogus doctors fool the people around them for years.


A man who posed as a doctor, complete with a stethoscope and lab coat, and promised to get people tenders at hospitals has been arrested in Pinetown, reports News24.

It's a frightening thought, as most people would trust that a person in a white coat with a stethoscope is, in fact, a doctor. The risks for the bogus doctor appear to be so enormous: people's lives are at stake here. Why on earth do people do this?

Two types of bogus doctors

"There are usually two types of bogus doctors," says Professor Michael Simpson, Pretoria psychiatrist. "The first is someone who does it for financial gain, as they would perpetrate any other fraud. The guise of doctor is just temporarily useful.  Their purpose is mercenary, so they might do it for a while and then move on to something else, or some other 'profession' once they've made their money."

He stressed that besides the financial gain, these impostors enjoy the inherent status and power that come with their chosen 'professions'.

So-called snake-oil merchants would fall into this category.

"The second type of person has a completely different type of motivation as their behaviour is more compulsive. They enjoy the status brought about by their new-found 'profession' and will do it again and again, even if they are caught. These are the people who will come out of prison and go straight back to doing the things that put them behind bars in the first place."

Status a big drawcard

Few people bother to fake being receptionists or cleaners. When people are pretending to be something they're not, they usually aim high: lawyers or doctors or similar professions. Why is this?

"It's not only the status brought about by the assumed profession," says Simpson. "The higher the status of the job, the less likely the perpetrator is to be questioned about his credentials. Certain professions bring instant respect from others with them. We tend to comply with instructions if they come from a person in authority, as several studies have shown. These fraudsters tend to choose the kind of professions in which they get to ask the questions, and are not questioned themselves."

Most people would shy away from the thought of posing as a medical doctor, as their lack of knowledge and skills would become apparent fairly quickly. But not so your serial bogus doctors, who regularly pretend to be locums or stand-in doctors in big hospitals.

"Many of these bogus doctors do have a fair amount of medical knowledge," according to Simpson. "Often they were medical students, but dropped out, or they have done a fair amount of self-study on medical matters. They tend to rely heavily on getting second opinions from other real doctors in a typical hospital setting."

And what if they're confronted or caught out, as must surely happen eventually? They react much like compulsive liars and go into denial. In fact, rather than a whole facade come crashing down, they often perpetuate the fraud and almost make a career out of pretense. On some level they believe their own stories.

Here are five cases of bogus doctors who were caught:

  • Omid Chiang had equipped his car with a flashing green light and a doctor-on-call sign that enabled him to break the speed limit and park anywhere he liked. He was caught when his letter in which he asked the UK court for reimbursement of expenses for his court appearance, was so littered with spelling errors, that a further investigation was ordered. This uncovered the truth: he was no doctor, despite having a defibrillator in his car.
  • In Bangladesh, two fake doctors, Akram Hossain and Abdus Sabur, who had been seeing patients and doing surgeries for years, were arrested in July 2010. Their activities came to light when an examining magistrate took a closer look at referral patterns, and came upon the scheme in which abnormally high numbers of patients were being referred to specific hospitals for treatment.
  • Craig Colclough, a fake army medic, was jailed by a UK court in 2009 for impersonating a doctor. He caused one of his patients severe pain when incorrectly treating a hand injury, and was caught out when his new wife became suspicious and did some research into his past. He had worked in the world of finance, but was no doctor.
  • In the US, Dean Alan Willoughby, was indicted on 73 counts of practicing medicine without a license and sexual abuse, was indicted again this week by a Fayette County grand jury for allegedly impersonating a doctor. Lexington police have said that Willoughby posed as a doctor doing medical research and paid people, mostly homeless men, $50 each to examine their prostates, check for hernias and inject them with what they thought were vitamins. Some of the incidents went as far back as 1996. It is unclear whether his motives were financial or sexual in nature.
  • Paul Bint, age 36, conned his way into 10 hospitals in London, including one occasion when he put 12 stitches in a head wound. Bint began a fake medical career at the age of 14 and was taken into care after posing as a GP. Over the next 20 years he repeatedly posed as a doctor to get into hospitals and close to patients. He also developed a taste for expensive cars, stealing a Porsche, Rolls-Royce, Ferrari and, most recently, an Aston Martin. He has been jailed several times.

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, updated September 2011) 





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