NEWARK – The State Board of Medical Examiners (BME) yesterday voted to suspend the license of an Edison-based psychiatrist after Administrative Law Judge Joann LaSala Candido found that the doctor had engaged in gross negligence and other licensure violations by engaging in sexual misconduct with a female patient.
ALJ Candido, who conducted a three-day trial on the matter, found that Dr. Chowdhury Azam inappropriately asked a female patient to show him a scar on her breast, inappropriately messaged her neck and shoulders and inappropriately touched her breast. As a psychiatrist, Dr. Azam was counseling the patient and providing treatment for substance abuse. The BME adopted ALJ Candido’s credibility findings which found the victim’s testimony to be “competent and credible” while adjudicating Dr. Azam’s version of the events to be “simply unbelievable.”
In its disciplinary action against Dr. Azam, the BME ordered a more severe punishment than recommended by the Office of Administrative Law. The State successfully argued to the BME that the harm to the patient, Dr. Azam’s continued willingness to blame the victim for his misconduct and his prior history of dishonesty with the BME necessitated an increase in the term of suspension from practice. The BME increased the penalty imposed upon Azam from six months active and six months of probation to a five year license suspension, with the first year being an active suspension. The suspension takes effect on September 10, 2010.
“Dr. Azam violated the trust of his patient and he broke the Board’s regulations which exist to protect patients,” Attorney General Paula T. Dow said. “The Board acted to discipline Dr. Azam based on his indefensible actions against this patient.”
“This physician, and the medical community as a whole, must recognize that even one instance of sexual misconduct with a patient demands a significant penalty,” Dow added.
The BME in February 2009 restricted Dr. Azam to seeing only male patients and then referred the case for a hearing in the Office of Administrative Law because Dr. Azam contested the matter. Hearings before the judge were held in December 2009 and February 2010, with the judge issuing her decision on May 28. The BME has the authority to accept, reject or modify a judge’s decision when it determines the appropriate level of discipline to administer.
Dr. Azam also must pay a $15,000 civil penalty and reimburse the state for its investigative and legal costs in excess of $22,000.
“Patients who suspect they received inappropriate treatment should file a complaint with the Board of Medical Examiners,” said Thomas R. Calcagni, Acting Director of the State Division of Consumer Affairs. “The Board reviews filed complaints and will, as this case demonstrates, hold licensees accountable.”
Deputy Attorney General David M. Puteska represented the state in this matter.