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The Doctor Who Went Viral For Taking A Knee Says He's Now Being Punished By His Hospital

Dr. Gu was placed on paid leave, and then probation, by Vanderbilt University Medical Center after a photo of him taking a knee went viral. The school told BuzzFeed News that these penalties were "performance" based.

Posted on January 17, 2018, at 1:06 p.m. ET

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.

Twitter: @eugenegu

Amid the highly polarizing national debate over Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem, Gu shared a photo of himself taking a knee "to fight white supremacy," he tweeted.

The tweet and gesture amassed over 50,000 retweets, and inspired professionals in other fields to share photos of themselves taking a knee in solidarity. However, the viral moment also drew widespread backlash among conservatives, who thought Gu was too "privileged" to speak out on this issue.

It's not the first time Gu and his online activism have been cause for national controversy. He's suing President Trump for blocking him on Twitter, and in late 2016, he was subpoenaed by Congress after he became the first person to successfully implant the heart and kidney of a human fetus into a rat.

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).

Doctors are supposed to make the House calls, not the US Marshals. #marchforscience

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.

On Monday, VUMC publicly spoke out about the controversy after a story from the Duke University student newspaper.

Updated statement regarding @DukeChronicle article about Duke graduate currently training as a surgical resident at…

The @VUMCHealth account initially tweeted a statement tagging Gu and the Duke Chronicle. They then deleted their initial tweet, and issued another tweet that did not tag Gu.

VUMC told BuzzFeed News their tweets were posted "in response to inaccuracies included in an article written by a student journalist at Duke University."

VUMC again declined to provide comment about Gu's "performance" based penalties. "As for performance related matters, our practice is to not comment publicly," Howser responded.

Gu believes he's being singled out and targeted by VUMC, and people have been rallying behind his cause.

@VUMChealth @DukeChronicle Your treatment of Dr. Gu reveals much about your lack of ethics. When an institution tre…

Some people are accusing VUMC of "bullying" one of their employees.

@VUMChealth @DukeChronicle This is breathtakingly unprofessional: a medical institution bullying an individual doctor online.

Other doctors are also tweeting their support of Dr. Gu.

@VUMChealth @DukeChronicle I stand with Eugene. #IStandWithEugene

In the latest in the ongoing saga, Vanderbilt University distanced themselves from the medical center in a tweet distinguishing their "financially separate entities" on Tuesday.

@BossDivaRhondaK @eugenegu Vanderbilt University and the Medical Center are legally and financially separate entiti…

"They supposedly placed me on administrative leave for my protection," Gu told BuzzFeed News. "They have an axe to grind against me...I know for a fact it's not based on performance issues."

Dr. Eugene Gu

As far as reconciliation, he said his "arms are always open for an olive branch at any time."

"I'm not even asking for much. I am just asking to be treated fairly like every other resident in the program is treated."

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.