In a statement released during the weekend, the Vanderbilt University Medical Center denied that Eugene Gu is no longer employed there because of his protests against racism. 

The Duke Medical School alumnus was placed on administrative leave after a patient’s mother complained that Gu kneeled on Twitter to protest white supremacy. Five months later, the Chronicle first reported that VUMC declined to renew the third-year resident’s contract. 

Gu has risen to prominence after being subpoenaed by Congress for fetal tissue research and winning a lawsuit May 23 against President Donald Trump, which ruled that Trump violated the First Amendment by blocking Gu and six co-plaintiffs on Twitter. VUMC had previously declined to comment, citing a policy against commenting on personnel matters. 

“Dr. Gu’s repeated assertions that he was disciplined, or that his residency program contract was not renewed, because of his political or social views are simply untrue,” the statement released Saturday read. “Dr. Gu’s public opposition to President Trump, participation in litigation against President Trump and public advocacy against racism were not the bases for decisions relating to his continued participation in VUMC’s surgery residency program.”

In a letter addressed to Gu, VUMC cited performance issues—as it did when he was placed on leave. A May 17 letter to Gu from VUMC General Counsel Michael Regier, which was obtained by the Chronicle, cited “lack of sufficient improvement in performance and conduct in key areas.” 

Gu has since received interest from other residency programs, according to email documentation obtained by the Chronicle. 

“Surgery is my life, and receiving offers from other programs gives me renewed hope during one of the most harrowing moments in my career," Gu said. "I really hope that I can find a third-year position at a supportive residency program and become the surgeon I’ve worked all my life to become.”

The Chronicle first reported that Gu was placed on paid leave for two weeks in November after a mother refused to let Gu treat her child. The mother penned two public Facebook posts identifying herself as having removed him from the room.

Internal VUMC emails obtained by the Chronicle—with the name of the patient and mother redacted for privacy reasons—show that VUMC administration discussed the mother’s complaints. Seth Karp, chairman of the department of surgery, requested that someone document the mother’s grievances about Gu and get them to him by the next day, November 9. 

The next day, Gu was placed on leave. 

A November 10 letter to Gu from Kyla Terhune, the residency program director for general surgery, VUMC, said Terhune was looking into “concerns about safety of other employees, complaints that VUMC has received from patients and external sources, and other related concerns.”

Gu was also placed on probation until March 2018. 

At the time, VUMC denied that his administrative leave had anything to do with the mother’s complaint. 

“The assertion that Dr. Gu was disciplined because of his expression of political or social views on social media is untrue,” a statement read. “All of VUMC’s actions relating to Dr. Gu’s progress as a surgery resident have been and will continue to be based on his performance and his adherence to VUMC policies."

By February, VUMC declined to renew his contract—set to expire July 1—days before the probation was scheduled to end. Gu took a leave of absence March 12, citing a hostile work environment. 

Gu said his workplace had become “intolerable” ever since VUMC publicly responded to stories regarding his leave. VUMC tweeted a statement saying that any actions taken against Gu were due to his “performance,” which Gu alleges incentivized his peers to look at him with a prying eye for self-serving motives. 

“If there’s an agenda against me clearly outlined in Vanderbilt’s social media posts, they knew the best way to advance their own selves was to denigrate me,” Gu said.

VUMC denied in its statement Saturday that Gu is no longer working for it because of anything to do with his politics. 

“The VUMC Community includes persons holding many diverse personal, political and social views, and we welcome all individuals who are interested in on-going career development in a caring, professional and culturally sensitive atmosphere,” the statement read. 

VUMC said that residents’ “professional progress” is evaluated through “on-going formal and informal processes,” from verbal feedback, performance evaluations and the annual American Board of Surgery In-Service Training Exam. 

“VUMC believes the processes used to evaluate its surgery residents are fair and equitable and that those processes have been fairly and appropriately administered in Dr. Gu’s case,” the statement read. 

VUMC declined to go into specifics of Gu’s performance, but encouraged “any media representative with interest in the underlying facts of his situation to ask that Dr. Gu provide complete and unedited copies of all correspondence from VUMC.” 

The May 17 letter to Gu said that “significant areas of concern” for Gu were “patient care, communication, and medical knowledge.”


“Our administration, faculty, and residency program leaders have shown a consistent commitment to the principles of diversity, integrity and fairness, and will continue to adhere to these principles even when unfairly and falsely accused of not doing so,” the statement said. “VUMC is confident that these important principles have been reflected in all of its interactions with Dr. Gu, and VUMC will continue to treat Dr. Gu in accordance with these principles even if he declines to interact with VUMC on the same basis.”