The world of medical education is arguably the most rigorous to exist. It’s time-consuming, expensive, academically challenging, all for good reason. Medical professionals, in one facet or another, have the care of human lives in their hands. For that reason, medical professions should have rigorous training programs.
That said, when we regular people get hurt, sick, or otherwise need medical attention, 97% of us can be cared for at an urgent care while the other 3% have to be transferred to the emergency room. The last thing we’re thinking about is where a nurse or doctor was educated, we’re thinking about being treated and getting home as soon as possible.
In 1998, when Adam Litwin was in his 20s, he was mistaken for a medical resident while reading in the UCLA medical library. Rather than telling the person that he wasn’t even a student at the school, he lied, said he was a fellow resident, and falsely fell into ranks with residents in the program. This lie was apparently convincing enough to work. He chalked it up to his fervent passion for medicine.
He did everything the residents did. Observed operations, followed rotations, went to classes, ate, slept, and mingled at the UCLA Medical Center. According to Litwin, he’d be at the hospital daily at 5:30 in the morning to do rounds with his “cohort” until his imperfect disguise gave him away.
Litwin had a white coat, but it wasn’t the same as the ubiquitous white coat among doctors. He also raised a red flag when he forged a prescription under the name of a “classmate” with whom he shared a last name. Finally, when his forged identification was called into question and compared to the medical resident roster, the gig was up. He was escorted out of the hospital in June 1999 and arrested when police officers found x-rays, a scalpel, and written prescriptions in his vehicle.
Every year, approximately 20,000 medical malpractice claims are filed in the United States. The trouble is, with medical malpractice, you have to actually be a medical professional for it to apply. Litwin pleaded guilty a year later for forging a prescription, stealing state property, and impersonating a doctor. Three misdemeanors that landed him two months in jail and six months of psychiatric counseling. He’s extremely fortunate that in that investigation there was no evidence that he ever treated a patient. People were in disbelief that his ruse lasted so long.
“The other residents would be like, ‘I’ve never met you — what program are you in?’ You might get away with it for a day or two, but the idea that you masqueraded as a physician on rounds for months? I find it hard to believe,” said Dr. Rajabrata Sarkar, who was chief resident in 1998.
Litwin said he was at UCLA Medical Center for nine months, prosecutors say it was six. Either way, that’s a long time to impersonate a physician without being caught.
Years later, in 2012, Litwin finally stopped the pretense and got into medical school at St. James School of Medicine in Bonaire in the Carribean. Last year, Litwin completed his M.D. and actually became a doctor. Still, his past haunts him and proves a formidable barrier to his progress. Irony would have it that he was recently denied entrance into a residency program for, of course, fraudulently impersonating a UCLA medical resident 20 years ago.
“I have had to overcome obstacles that would’ve sunken the vast majority of people in this world,” Litwin said. “I have persevered and I have struggled to be who and where I am today way too much and come much too far to give up now.”
He is appealing the denial decision and, if it’s not overturned, he plans to reapply next year. If accepted, he will be 52 years old. Who said you couldn’t learn from your mistakes?