Doctor known for criticizing Trump loses job at Vanderbilt
A Tennessee doctor known for his barbed social-media criticism of President Trump — and who recently sued the president and won — has lost his job at Vanderbilt University.
Eugene Gu, 32, said he was let go from his five-year residency at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) on Friday after only 2 1/2 years in the program.
Gu told The Hill that the university’s decision not to renew his contract was “the same as me being fired.”
“If you don’t complete all 5 years of your general surgery residency, you don’t get credit for partial completion or anything like that. It’s just like not doing residency at all,” Gu explained.
Gu, a well-known figure on social media who has written as a contributor for The Hill, claimed the “overarching” reason Nashville’s largest hospital decided not to renew his contract was because of his criticism of Trump on Twitter, his successful participation in litigation against the president and his public opposition to racism online.
“They don’t want that out there in the media. It’s troublesome to them, and so they punished me for it,” said Gu, whose departure from the university was first reported by Duke University’s The Chronicle and later reported by The Tennessean.
But Vanderbilt told The Hill in a statement Saturday that the decision not to renew Gu’s contract had nothing to do with his activity on Twitter or his lawsuit against the president.
“Dr. Gu’s repeated assertions that he was disciplined, or that his residency program contract was not renewed, because of his political or social views are simply untrue,” John Howser, a spokesperson for the hospital, said in an emailed statement.
“Dr. Gu’s public opposition to President Trump, participation in litigation against President Trump and public advocacy against racism were not the bases for decisions relating to his continued participation in VUMC’s surgery residency program.”
The medical institution went on to say that all disciplinary actions against the doctor were related to his professionalism and work performance, noting that surgical residents such as Gu undergo a series of steps to determine their “professional progress.” Those include feedback from colleagues and attending physicians, performance evaluations and a multiple-choice exam meant to test the residents’ knowledge, the hospital said.
“VUMC believes the processes used to evaluate its surgery residents are fair and equitable and that those processes have been fairly and appropriately administered in Dr. Gu’s case,” the hospital added.
Gu is one of seven individuals who sued the president and won after Trump blocked him from his Twitter account because of opinions he expressed in reply tweets. The court’s ruling in May found that the president’s move to block certain people who reply to his tweets with differing opinions constituted viewpoint discrimination, which violates the First Amendment.
Gu was unblocked from the president’s official Twitter page on Monday and described the moment as “surreal.”
“I didn’t believe it at first and then I clicked on Donald Trump’s handle and I was unblocked and it was just — I really couldn’t believe it because I didn’t think that he would actually follow the judge’s order,” Gu said. “Because he always seems like he’s above the law.”
Trump blocked Gu on Twitter last year after the doctor shared a tweet ridiculing the president for his infamous “Covfefe” typo. “Covfefe: The same guy who doesn’t proofread his Twitter handles the nuclear button,” Gu tweeted.
Covfefe: The same guy who doesn’t proofread his Twitter handles the nuclear button.
— Eugene Gu, MD (@eugenegu) June 18, 2017
Gu garnered attention on social media again when, just two months after Trump blocked him, he shared a photo of himself kneeling in his hospital coat with a closed fist.
“I’m an Asian-American doctor and today I #TakeTheKnee to fight white supremacy,” he tweeted.
— Eugene Gu, MD (@eugenegu) September 24, 2017
The tweet was an expression of solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, Eric Reid and other NFL players who protested white supremacy and police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem at football games. The protests became a target of Trump, who last year called for the league to fire the kneeling players. Gu said he was inspired to tweet the photo after a racially-motivated attack on him at a Vanderbilt hospital parking garage.
Following the tweet showing him kneeling, one patient refused to let him treat the patient’s family members, Gu said.
He also said his program director at the hospital told him to remove a tweet detailing his experience about another patient who refused to allow him to treat him due to his race. Gu said he eventually deleted the tweet.
This is a tweet Vanderbilt’s general surgery program forced me to delete:
“A patient did not want me to take care of him because of my race and my chief went along with it, asking me not to step into the room. #Trump”
Then Vanderbilt’s unrelenting retaliation began.
— Eugene Gu, MD (@eugenegu) June 7, 2018
Howser, however, contends that the medical center’s “commitment to the principles of diversity, integrity and fairness” has remained consistent in its interactions with Gu, “even when unfairly and falsely accused of not doing so.”
Gu claimed the hospital is just using the “performance and professionalism excuse” as a “pretext to really punish me for my outspokenness on Twitter and my activism and speaking out against bullying at the hospital.” He added that he believes the hospital has even gone so far as to “punish” him in his performance evaluations in retaliation.
Gu said he is considering taking legal action against the hospital and hopes to continue his work at another more “supportive” hospital in the future.