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Toronto doctor loses licence after she admits to sexual relationship with cancer patient

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https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/toronto-doctor-s-licence-revoked-after-she-admits-to-sexual-abuse-of-cancer-patient-1.4990346

  • A Toronto doctor has had her licence revoked after admitting to having a sexual relationship with a cancer patient.
  • Theepa Sundaralingam, 37, a former oncologist with the Rouge Valley Health System, appeared at a disciplinary hearing at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario on Wednesday on allegations of professional misconduct.

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I read the news coverage of what happened and definitely felt like she had crossed a boundary, but then I read the hearing summary on CPSO and feel awful for her. It was two consenting adults (seems like his family had at least some awareness of them having a relationship that was more than doctor-patient) and he didn't object and wasn't coerced into the relationship, both physical and emotional, with her. In his own words, he was most affected by her ending their relationship, not in her having started or during the course of the relationship itself. He didn't complain when she was initiating the relationship, and he didn't complain as it progressed and became more sexual. Sounds a lot like a scorned ex trying to get back where it hurts her the most. Based on his own words to the College, I wonder if he ever would have brought up this complaint to the College if she hadn't ended their relationship.

Long story short, never date patients, current and past. (Definitely further limits the pool for those of us entering med single... ugh LOL)

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48 minutes ago, #YOLO said:

LOL at how yall are sympathizin with her

19 minutes ago, GrouchoMarx said:

in some peoples eyes, an attractive woman can do no wrong.

I mean yes, it's sad that someone who invested that much time and effort into their training to become an oncologist is now no longer able to practice, but also don't date your patients. It's something that is communicated to us quite clearly on a routine basis.

While I have no interest in observing the downfall of a colleague, it is reassuring to see that she didn't get a free pass.

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Lol what are these comments. Imagine if this was a male physician or a less attractive female. Don't let the halo effect blind you, this is an open and shut case, she should lose her license. Don't sleep with patients, and a personal rule for me, don't date classmates or colleagues (the former is obviously infinitely more problematic than the latter). In this case this physician broke both rules as she broke off a relationship with a patient to start a new one with a colleague... Really have to question her decision making here. 

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3 hours ago, xiphoid said:

I read the news coverage of what happened and definitely felt like she had crossed a boundary, but then I read the hearing summary on CPSO and feel awful for her. It was two consenting adults (seems like his family had at least some awareness of them having a relationship that was more than doctor-patient) and he didn't object and wasn't coerced into the relationship, both physical and emotional, with her. In his own words, he was most affected by her ending their relationship, not in her having started or during the course of the relationship itself. He didn't complain when she was initiating the relationship, and he didn't complain as it progressed and became more sexual. Sounds a lot like a scorned ex trying to get back where it hurts her the most. Based on his own words to the College, I wonder if he ever would have brought up this complaint to the College if she hadn't ended their relationship.

Long story short, never date patients, current and past. (Definitely further limits the pool for those of us entering med single... ugh LOL)

Agreed! While of course she crossed the line, I think the language used in the summary to characterize what happened is absolutely ridiculous. "She sexually abused a patient."  Give me a break. His ego was bruised when she decided to end things and see a colleague instead.  In order to exert some form of revenge he went after her career. That's it. When I think of "sexual abuse" in the context of the medical field I think of people like Dr. Larry Nassar. Ultimately rules are rules. Boundaries were crossed and her having her license revoked is probably the right avenue to take unfortunately, but let's not kid ourselves about what this situation is.

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15 minutes ago, VigoVirgo said:

  Give me a break. His ego was bruised when she decided to end things and see a colleague instead.  In order to exert some form of revenge he went after her career.

Everyone typing here is a medical student or a pre-med, so we're all naturally going to be nudged towards the physician's POV. But I think it's important to set aside our biases and consider other perspectives as well. In this case the physician got romantically involved with a patient, after some time abandoned the patient to become involved with a colleague, AND refused to further treat the patient. It isn't a stretch to say that this is emotionally manipulative behaviour, so I don't particularly have a problem with the language used in the hearing summary.

 

And I'm not entirely convinced that a patient recently diagnosed with cancer can give consent to the physician overseeing their treatment, so I also have a problem with your characterization of the relationship. Overall we need to stop giving the benefit of the doubt to the physician here because she has displayed a remarkable lack of judgement and frankly reckless behaviour. 

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1 minute ago, tavenan said:

Everyone typing here is a medical student or a pre-med, so we're all naturally going to be nudged towards the physician's POV. But I think it's important to set aside our biases and consider other perspectives as well. In this case the physician got romantically involved with a patient, after some time abandoned the patient to become involved with a colleague, AND refused to further treat the patient. It isn't a stretch to say that this is emotionally manipulative behaviour, so I don't particularly have a problem with the language used in the hearing summary.

 

And I'm not entirely convinced that a patient recently diagnosed with cancer can give consent to the physician overseeing their treatment, so I also have a problem with your characterization of the relationship. Overall we need to stop giving the benefit of the doubt to the physician here because she has displayed a remarkable lack of judgement and frankly reckless behaviour. 

She has displayed reckless behaviour, no doubt about that. However did you read the entirely of the report? Initially they exchanged personal phone numbers and instagram information, and it escalated from there to include sexting, going over to his family home, and all over a period of many months. If there were issues about ability to consent then I am sure his family members would have raised concerns or if he felt "sexually abused" he could have filed a complaint earlier and sought out another oncologist.

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9 hours ago, VigoVirgo said:

She has displayed reckless behaviour, no doubt about that. However did you read the entirely of the report? Initially they exchanged personal phone numbers and instagram information, and it escalated from there to include sexting, going over to his family home, and all over a period of many months. If there were issues about ability to consent then I am sure his family members would have raised concerns or if he felt "sexually abused" he could have filed a complaint earlier and sought out another oncologist.

you're an idiot.

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Consent isn't just about "saying yes/no" to a sexual relationship. It's about power dynamics, and the potential for someone with power to take advantage of someone else who is both emotionally and physically vulnerable. If you are unable to see how that's unethical, you're wrong, period. "Smart" and "nice" people don't get a free pass. Lots of wonderful people make horrible decisions and they still have to take responsibility for their actions and suffer the consequences. She knew she could lose her license and she did it anyway.

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8 minutes ago, aTiNyWoRm said:

Consent isn't just about "saying yes/no" to a sexual relationship. It's about power dynamics, and the potential for someone with power to take advantage of someone else who is both emotionally and physically vulnerable. If you are unable to see how that's unethical, you're wrong, period. "Smart" and "nice" people don't get a free pass. Lots of wonderful people make horrible decisions and they still have to take responsibility for their actions and suffer the consequences. She knew she could lose her license and she did it anyway.

Absolutes usually don't work well in ethics.

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Listen a lot of us at UofT knew her personally so we know who she is beyond a news headline. Am I saying what she did was okay? NO

 

I do however understand that she made a terrible mistake and paid a high price. She had a consensual relationship with a patient who was upset when she broke it off and complained. She got caught and paid the price. 

 

So so yes I am not excusing her behaviour. I just feel bad for her and society at large to lose someone that we invested so much time and energy in training 

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1 hour ago, #YOLO said:

at least my perspective on physician-patient relationships isn't idiotic = ) 

I'm not excusing her behaviour. Nor have I ever denied that she violated the boundaries of the physician- patient relationship. But I am not eager to bring her down even more like some of you oh so morally righteous, pure, wholesome individuals seem to be. 

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13 minutes ago, Aconitase said:

Listen a lot of us at UofT knew her personally so we know who she is beyond a news headline. Am I saying what she did was okay? NO

 

I do however understand that she made a terrible mistake and paid a high price. She had a consensual relationship with a patient who was upset when she broke it off and complained. She got caught and paid the price. 

 

So so yes I am not excusing her behaviour. I just feel bad for her and society at large to lose someone that we invested so much time and energy in training 

Again I'm not sold on the premise that this relationship was consensual... Clearly a patient cannot give consent to the physician overseeing their treatment, it just doesn't work. It really doesn't matter how nice of a person she is, she showcases a pattern of reckless behaviour and a severe inability to apply critical thinking, traits that you really don't want to see in a physician. It very well could be a net positive for "society at large" that she lost her license.

 

But at least I'm glad we all agree she should absolutely lose her license. I wish her well in other endeavours and hope she makes smarter decisions in the future. 

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Read the attachment below. 

I have to agree that this is an open and shut case. It doesn't matter if she is the nicest person in the world or whether she was highly qualified as an oncologist, she ultimately crossed many boundaries and knew what she was getting herself into. She initiated this relationship the day after she diagnosed him with cancer when he was likely very vulnerable and continued to have a relationship with him while she provided treatments. She even had sexual relations with him while he was an inpatient and made him change charts to cover for her.

I feel bad for her, but at the same time, this situation is undeniably wrong and she knew there would be repercussions. It's unfortunate that she won't be able to practice anymore but hopefully, this will be a lesson for others not to make the same mistake. 

https://www.cpso.on.ca/DoctorDetails/Theepa-Sundaralingam/0252171-89581

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12 minutes ago, Mediocre2Med said:

Read the attachment below. 

I have to agree that this is an open and shut case. It doesn't matter if she is the nicest person in the world or whether she was highly qualified as an oncologist, she ultimately crossed many boundaries and knew what she was getting herself into. She initiated this relationship the day after she diagnosed him with cancer when he was likely very vulnerable and continued to have a relationship with him while she provided treatments. She even had sexual relations with him while he was an inpatient and made him change charts to cover for her.

I feel bad for her, but at the same time, this situation is undeniably wrong and she knew there would be repercussions. It's unfortunate that she won't be able to practice anymore but hopefully, this will be a lesson for others not to make the same mistake. 

https://www.cpso.on.ca/DoctorDetails/Theepa-Sundaralingam/0252171-89581

I read over the CPSO discipine's statement of fact. Under no circumstance are Dr S's behaviors ethical and she certainly crossed a line. I felt bad for her that she cannot practice medicine anymore, but even the nicest and smartest physician makes unethical and unprofessional mistakes, and we are all liable to assume responsibilities. 

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I honestly don’t have any sympathy for her. Her behaviour was unacceptable and she is receiving professional consequences, as she should. 

This is not unprofessional in the manner of stressed out doctor snapping back at some rude patient. I could feel bad for that sort of conduct. This is big-U Unprofessional, the consequences of which are clearly laid out and explained to us in med school. There was an inherent inequality in the professional relationship which made true consent impossible. This is one of the really big no-nos in medicine.

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Interesting case, in a sad-for-all sort of way. I'm completely removed from her or anyone that even knows her. I'm not really feeling any sympathy for her though over this case. Especially knowing that she continued to treat him during the relationship. That's a total disservice to this patient and likely her other patients when she spent hours at a time with him while he was an in-patient (reported in another article). There is little chance that she could maintain proper clinical judgement while treating someone she was emotionally involved with. And she clearly knew the implications because she was asking him to keep it secret, delete texts, scratch out her name from logs, etc. I think the main problem here was she either had little insight into his experience of the situation during both the relationship and what the break-up would do to him, or had too much hubris to feel bound by the ethics of the situation and the impact on his oncologic care. Or both.

Also, why the hell do you give a patient your instagram handle almost immediately after meeting them? Is this a thing? Is it a better way of staying connected with your patients? Should I be doing this too? :huh:

 

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This is very saddening for the medical community at large - no one wins here. The government and her colleagues invested time and money into her training and the population was to reap the benefits of that investment. That skill set/talent is now wasted. 

Let me clearly define my position before going further - her punishment is absolutely warranted. It is clear (from the facts available for us to review) that she is not fit to practice medicine. It does nothing but strengthen our relationship with patients when they know harsh punishments are handed out by our governing bodies for inappropriate conduct. My personal feeling (having read the facts available to me - however, as a disclaimer, I do not know this person) is that she has deeper issues (personality disorder, lack of insight, sexual addiction, etc). The reason I feel this way is the manner in which she conducted herself - 1) Giving out her instagram contact early in the relationship (you should NEVER do this btw - IF I give any contact information to my patients, it is my work email that can serve as medico-legal documentation if required) 2) Continuing to treat the patient despite engaging in a sexual relationship (this is wrong on so many levels that I wont go into it - here's a general rule for those in training (and practice): IF YOU HAVE EVER OR ARE TREATING A PATIENT, DO NOT ENGAGE IN SEXUAL RELATIONSHIP WITH THAT INDIVIDUAL, EVER) 3) Engaging in sexual acts while the patient is in hospital receiving active treatment (......WTF) 4) Breaking up with said patient because you are committed to a relationship with a colleague (which was also an affair - again, highlighting poor decision making).

This demonstrates to me that there is some other issue at play here (again whether it be a personality disorder, sexual addiction, lack of insight, etc). While some of these decisions may not be rare or 'illegal' with regards to practicing as a physician (engaging in an affair, connecting with patients via social media) engaging in a sexual relationship with a patient and the constellation of these poor decisions points to a deeper issue. Ultimately, she is not fit to practice medicine (nor be in any position where there is a 'power dynamic'). 

I am glad that the CPSO has handed out harsh justice - it is a reminder to all of us that we sit in a very privileged and powerful position and that with our patients our decisions should always be guided by the notion to 'First do no harm'. 

My thoughts

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