Medical Board of California Member Speaks Out

TJ Watkins says the Board is failing patients and protecting dangerous doctors. He’s demanding legislative action to put the public's interests first.

NBC Universal, Inc.

The Medical Board of California says its mission is to protect health care consumers with proper licensing and regulation of doctors, but patient advocates have long argued that is not what happens in this state. They say the board is shrouded in secrecy.

In fact, the board cannot confirm or deny an investigation of a doctor is even taking place. Those investigations typically take between three to four years to complete, while doctors continue to practice.

Really bad things are happening under our watch, and what are we going to do?

Eserick “TJ” Watkins, Public Member, Medical Board of California

Advocates fighting for change now have a powerful ally on their side, board member Eserick “TJ” Watkins. He filed a whistleblower compliant a year ago and is not holding back on what he believes needs to change to give patients in California the protection they deserve.

“Really bad things are happening under our watch, and what are we going to do,” TJ Watkins asked.

For the past three years the strength trainer and life coach has served as a public member of the Medical Board of California. He’s listened, he’s learned and he’s spoken up. But he says he is troubled by what he has witnessed.

“We preach public protection, but everything we do is doctor protection,” said Watkins.

Watkins said of the 10,000 or so complaints filed by patients every year, only a small fraction of those are actually investigated. And according the board’s published annual reports, just 1.4 percent of complaints lead to discipline with probation, and less than half of one percent result in the revocation of a doctor’s license.

We preach public protection, but everything we do is doctor protection.

TJ Watkins, Public Member, Medical Board of California

“Those are ridiculous numbers, no matter what industry you’re in,” said Watkins “A whole great number of them get dismissed because we accept a doctor’s rebuttal statement without consulting the patient that was harmed in the first place.”

Watkins pointed to the board’s own enforcement statistics over the past 15 years to illustrate the problem.

“Your kid could have died, your spouse could have died, you could have been maimed and be in a wheelchair the rest of your life. You could have lost limbs. All different functions could have disappeared that affect your entire life, and you will have a 1.4 percent chance that it will actually lead to probation. These are the facts.”

He said the doctor-majority board is operating in its own bubble, accepting these numbers as the norm.

“I am here speaking to you because that bubble is costing people’s lives right now."

Watkins wants to see a process that’s robust, transparent and accountable, where fair and consistent disciplinary guidelines serve as a deterent.  He said he almost always sees disciplinary guidelines imposed that are far less than what is outlined in the Medical Board Manual of Model Disciplinary Orders and Guidelines.

“The deviation from the disciplinary guidelines, it’s like 90 percent of the time,” Watkins said.

And he explained the challenge board members face when deciding on cases, saying the board only has access to memos written by the Attorney General’s office which essentially summarize a case.

“I don’t get to see, as a board member, the investigation report. I don’t get to see the expert report. I only get the Attorney General’s, the Deputy Attorney General’s interpretation of those documents,” Watkins said. “And the tone of it reads like it was prepared for by the defense counsel for the doctor, but it is supposedly by the attorney general’s office tasked with protecting the public.”

He said 99 percent of the time, the board then accepts the decision or settlement reached by the Deputy Attorney General.

“The public, the complainant has zero legal rights. From the moment they file a complaint, that right disappears,” said Watkins.

In fact, by law, patients are not allowed to give a statement to the board until after their case is decided.

“The people that are really hurt, we’ll never hear from the them. The brave patient advocates and the people what call into the medical board , they are the tip of the iceberg.”

The Attorney General’s office did not respond to the I-team’s request for comment. But the Medical Board  said in part that “it has requested statutory changes to provide the board with additional finance and legal resources...” and noted that if “the Board is not provided or cannot discover clear and convincing evidence that a physician has violated the Medical Practice Act, then the Board must close the case… the Board must follow the law when considering whether to discipline a licensee for unprofessional conduct.“ According to Business and Professions code 2229 (b), the Board “shall whenever possible take action that is calculated to aid in the rehabilitation of the licensee.”

“Let’s be very clear about what the disciplinary guidelines say,” Watkins added. “They say that rehabilitation should be considered if the public protection is not at risk. The public protection element trumps the rehabilitation.”

Watkins has teamed up with patient advocates to create what he calls the Accountability Act, a 14 point action plan outlining legislative changes to the board, changes he describes as “protecting the public and reforming this unequal, unjust and unfair system.”

“I don’t hear anybody talking about what the patients are going through during this process,” Watkins said, adding, when it comes to the board, “We’re doing an awful job.”

  • The quarterly meeting of the Medical Board of California is open to the public on December 1 and December 2, 2022
  • The meeting is at the Hyatt Regency LAX, 6225 West Century Boulevard, Los Angeles
  • Call 888-469-3219 and use passcode 6149823 to listen in and provide public comment

Contact Us