Ronny Jackson, doctor to presidents, is accused of being drunk on the job — but he wouldn't be the first

Korin Miller
Photo: Getty Images

Ronny Jackson has served as a White House physician since 2006, and was recently nominated by President Trump to become the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. But a ranking Democrat on the Senate Veterans Affairs committee is reportedly investigating claims that Jackson behaved inappropriately on the job.

Sources tell CBS News that current or former White House medical staff have accused Jackson of creating a “hostile work environment,” including accusations of “excessive drinking on the job [and] improperly dispensing meds.” The allegations are currently being investigated by the staff of Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and, if they’re proven, will “sink” Jackson’s nomination, one of the sources said.

Tester and his staff reportedly began hearing allegations over the weekend from people who worked with Jackson, but the White House initially stood by the nominee. “Admiral Jackson has been on the front lines of deadly combat and saved the lives of many others in service to this country,” White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley told CNN on Tuesday. “He’s served as the physician to three presidents—Republican and Democrat—and been praised by them all. Admiral Jackson’s record of strong, decisive leadership is exactly what’s needed at the VA to ensure our veterans receive the benefits they deserve.” However, Jackson’s confirmation hearing (which was originally scheduled for Wednesday) has been postponed. At a press conference with President Emmanuel Macron of France Wednesday, President Trump said that if he were in Jackson’s shoes, he would seriously reconsider whether to pursue the nomination. “If I were him, I wouldn’t do it,” he said, while adding, “It’s totally his decision.”

If the allegations are true, Jackson would hardly be the first doctor to drink on the job. Kentucky plastic surgeon Theodore Gerstle was arrested in January on public intoxication charges after he allegedly showed up for surgery while intoxicated, WKYT reported. In 2017, Texas-based ER doctor Gregory Gibbons had his medical license suspended after he appeared drunk, passed out in a doctor’s sleep room, and was later found to have had a blood alcohol level of 0.293, according to ABC 13. And Fox News reported that a doctor in New Hampshire had his medical license suspended in 2012 after he showed up to work while appearing intoxicated (his blood alcohol level was .186, testing revealed).

The American Medical Association specifically states on its website that doctors should “not practice if their ability to do so safely is impaired by use of a controlled substance, alcohol, other chemical agent or a health condition.” The AMA also urges doctors to avoid drinking an amount of alcohol that has the potential to impair their performance when they work, or cause a hangover.

There are a slew of things that can happen in this kind of situation, if a doctor is caught, health expert Jennifer Wider, MD, tells Yahoo Lifestyle: Doctors can lose their medical license, their job, and even be arrested. “Doctors take the Hippocratic Oath and promise to ‘do no harm,'” she points out. “Being under the influence or impaired by substances while practicing medicine certainly puts patients at risk and would violate this oath.”

No word yet on when Jackson’s hearing will actually take place.

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