Dr. Eugene Gu, a third year resident at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, drew national criticism and praise after sharing a photo of himself taking a knee in September.
Shortly after a BuzzFeed News article was published in 2017 about his tweet, Gu said "a whole avalanche" of punitive actions were taken against him and his practice at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC).
First, he received a letter of warning from the university medical center about his social media use, he said.
Then, in November, he was placed on paid administrative leave during an internal investigation after Gu reported that he was physically assaulted on VUMC premises.
A letter discussing his leave was provided to BuzzFeed News. It noted that the action was taken for his "personal safety," but Gu claims there was no active physical threat against him after the assault.
Two weeks later, Gu received a letter from VUMC stating that he was being placed on probation until March 2018. A copy of the probation letter provided to BuzzFeed News cited "misleading" characterizations of his assault that were shared on social media, and that his probation was escalated to "corrective action" so he could show "improvement" during the probational period.
Gu said he believes his suspension and probation were actually due to a patient's mother calling him racist for his online activism. The woman refused to allow Gu to treat her son after seeing his viral post, and then wrote a viral Facebook post of her own.
Gu also claims the same woman had been "harassing" him on social media for his activism.
"She singled me out and said 'I want you out of the room now,'" he said. "It was shocking to do in front of so many people, but I thought, 'I'm going to leave. I don't want to cause a scene.'"
The mother's Facebook posts and comments claimed she complained about Gu to a director at VUMC shortly after kicking him out, citing she was "nervous" about the care he would provide to her son. Gu said he didn't "think too much" of the incident, until he matched the timing of that incident to when he was placed on administrative leave.
"The mother thinks I'm racist toward white people," he said. "She wrote emails to the chairman and publicly posted that on Facebook. I think that's the primary reason I was placed on leave."
BuzzFeed News has reached out to the mother.
However, a rep for VUMC claimed repeatedly to BuzzFeed News that Dr. Gu's punishments were all "based on his performance" as a medical professional.
"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," John Howser, the chief communications officer, said in a statement.
"Dr. Gu has never been told that he must change his political views...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 their views are their own."
VUMC declined to provide more detail about the "performance" issues that led to his leave and probation. Dr. Gu said his performance reviews as a surgery resident during his three years have been mixed.