In case you haven’t heard, a 17-year-old boy was discovered impersonating a doctor in a West Palm Beach, Florida hospital last month. According to one report, a patient told some staff at the hospital’s outpatient obstetrics and gynecology office that “a young male who ‘appeared to be a child’ was dressed as a doctor and was inside an exam room.”

The lad was wearing a white coat and had a stethoscope around his neck.

Some hospital personnel said a real doctor had been conducting an examination while the boy was in the room.

From the police report: “The subject was seen on several floors of the hospital by several hospital employees entering patients [sic] rooms and talking to hospital employees.”

He had apparently been walking around the hospital for a month. A security guard said the boy was “known around the hospital as a doctor.”

After he was apprehended, a search of his car revealed a white coat with the word “Anesthesiology” embroidered on it as well as documents from another hospital in West Palm Beach. An employee of that institution said he had been seen walking around there at least once. Perhaps he was thinking about expanding his practice.

The stories said that the boy had some sort of “condition,” and his mother told the police that he had been refusing to take his medication. He was not charged with a crime.

Another account published a statement by the hospital that said, “The individual never had contact with any hospital patients and did not gain access to any patient care areas of the hospital at any time. The hospital immediately notified local authorities, who took the individual into custody, and we are cooperating with their ongoing investigation.”

The boy was in an exam room with a doctor and a patient and was seen entering patients’ rooms. Isn’t that patient contact?

Having been involved with hospital administrations for many years when I was a surgical chairman, I would love to have sat in on the meetings that must have taken place after this event occurred. Was a root cause analysis done?

Remarkably, no one has called this a system error. I wonder what sort of system, if any, that hospital uses to identify its personnel. I believe it is a Joint Commission requirement that all hospital personnel display something called an “identification card” with their name, occupation, and a photograph. In many hospitals, the ID card also contains a sensor that can open doors to restricted areas like the operating room or delivery room. The ID card is often paired with another card containing the hospital’s mission statement.

[Digression: Hospital mission statements are second only to the terms and conditions accompanying software as the least often read documents of the 21st Century.]

How many hospital workers—security guards, nurses, doctors, unit secretaries—must have encountered this kid over the course of a month? And no one ever challenged him?

What would have happened if this young man had had malicious intentions?

If I were in charge of a hospital [not likely] and an incident like this had happened, some people would be looking for new jobs.

Skeptical Scalpel is a retired surgeon and was a surgical department chairman and residency program director for many years. He is board-certified in general surgery and critical care and has re-certified in both several times. He blogs at and tweets as @SkepticScalpel.