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VUMC responds to concerns of mistreatment of doctor kneeling to protest white supremacy

After the Chronicle first reported that Vanderbilt Medical Center (VUMC) placed Duke med alumnus Eugene Gu on administrative leave, VUMC broke its silence. 

Gu, who has found fame for taking a stand on social issues, was placed on administrative leave Nov. 9 for nearly two weeks after a patient’s mother complained that he kneeled on Twitter to protest white supremacy. He remains on probation until March. 

The Chronicle reported that on Nov. 8, chairman of surgery Seth Karp requested that someone document the mother’s complaints about Gu and get them to him by Nov. 9. That day, Gu was placed on administrative leave. 

In a Nov. 10 letter to Gu from Kyla Terhune, general surgery residency program director, VUMC said that it was investigating “concerns about safety of other employees, complaints that VUMC has received from patients and external sources, and other related concerns.”

Before the Chronicle broke the report, VUMC had declined to comment on several occasions, citing a custom of not commenting in personnel matters. But Wednesday, in an email statement to the Chronicle, VUMC Chief Communications Officer John Howser wrote that Vanderbilt is not trying to stifle his political views. 

“Dr. Gu has never been told that he must change his political views or the substantive content of his personal participation on social media platforms,” the statement read. “He has been advised of the need to adhere to VUMC’s social media policy, which requires that persons who are identified as representatives of VUMC clearly state that their views are their own. He has also been advised that resident physicians should be professional and respectful in their interactions and communications with and about one another.”

In the kneeling photo that went viral, Gu is seen wearing his scrubs and his VUMC identification badge—although the font is so small that one cannot make out that it says Vanderbilt on it, even when zoomed in on. 

Gu’s bio contains no reference to Vanderbilt. But Gu does mention Vanderbilt on his Twitter account before his leave became public seven times. 

Of those seven, he twice discussed that views expressed on his account do not represent VUMC. He also tweeted twice about an alleged physical assault in Vanderbilt's parking garage and once about the amount of death threats that he receives—he said that Vanderbilt police "opened an Intimidation Report." Finally, he tweeted two times about how he says he was physically assaulted by his chief resident and bullied by nurses on the trauma unit at Vanderbilt. 

Also in the statement, VUMC says that it is not tolerant of harassment or discrimination. 

“VUMC is an Equal Opportunity Employer that values its commitment to diversity and inclusion,” its statement to The Chronicle said. “We welcome those who are interested in ongoing career development in a caring, professional and culturally sensitive atmosphere. Discrimination and harassment, in any form, are not tolerated in our workplace, nor is retaliation for raising such concerns.”

Gu, however, questioned the how genuine VUMC was in its commitment to diversity.

"Vanderbilt talks the big talk about diversity and inclusion but when it comes to actual instances of racial discrimination and bullying they keep everything internal with internal investigations and lawyers that only tell you that they did nothing wrong," Gu said. 

VUMC also said that it had looked into Gu’s claims of maltreatment in the workplace .

“All of VUMC’s actions concerning Dr. Gu have been consistent with this important institutional commitment,” the statement said. “This includes thoroughly investigating every concern Dr. Gu has raised about his treatment and experience in the VUMC surgery residency program. The results of those investigations have been shared with him on numerous occasions.”

A full copy of the statement can be found below: