The University of Southern California is admitting fault for improperly addressing dozens of complaints against a former campus gynecologist for inappropriately examining students over almost 30 years.
George Tyndall was the only full time USC gynecologist on staff from 1989 until last year, when he was released following an investigation into his exam room practices, complaints by students and other staff as well as a box containing photographs of patient’s genitalia. Tyndall treated tens of thousands of female students, many young women in their teens who had never seen a gynecologist.
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USC Faulted for Mishandling Complaints
A university investigation found Tyndall’s behavior during pelvic exams to be inappropriate, outside the norm of current medical practice and equal to sexual harassment. Despite his egregious behavior, administrators allowed the doctor to quietly resign with a monetary payout in June 2017.
USC did not inform Tyndall’s patients of his behavior, nor did they report him to the Medical Board of California, an agency responsible for protecting the public from problematic doctors. USC has previously contended they were not under legal obligation to report Tyndall’s behavior. However, they now agree in retrospect that disciplinary action should have been taken. It wasn’t until the doctor requested to be reinstated at USC that the school finally submitted a complaint to the medical board.
USC President C.L. Max Nikias told the campus community in a letter that Tyndall’s behavior was a “profound breach of trust.”
“On behalf of the university, I sincerely apologize to any student who may have visited the student health center and did not receive the respectful care each individual deserves,” Nikias wrote.
Tyndall’s Questionable Exam Room Conduct
Complaints surrounding the doctor’s behavior began in the 90’s when co-workers alleged that he was unnecessarily photographing students’ genitals. Following these accusations came patients and nurses who contended he inappropriately touched them during pelvic exams, as well as made unprofessional sexual remarks about their bodies. Although complaints about Tyndall’s conduct had begun in the 90’s, few of his patients knew about them. Tyndall continued to practice amid a steady flow of complaints until 2016 when he was suspended after a nurse, desperate for action, turned to the campus rape crisis center.
Tyndall was accompanied in the exam room by either a female nurse or medical assistant known as a chaperone, a practice used by many male gynecologists. In the years following his arrival at USC, many of his chaperones were alerted by his unusual behavior.
Students also verbalized discomfort about the doctor’s behavior, and several wrote letters to the university about inappropriate touching and remarks. Even when these letters were read aloud during monthly committee meetings, Tyndall was allowed to continue seeing students.
Chaperones also became increasingly concerned when Tyndall began performing full body scans on his patients, wherein he had women lie down naked on exam tables while he slowly inspected every part of their body looking for “suspicious moles.” As he worked, the doctor made comments about the patients’ bodies, describing them as “flawless”, “creamy” or “beautiful” and even remarked on the students’ “perky breasts.”
Tyndall insisted there was nothing wrong with his treatment, claiming the scans were to detect skin cancer. Several medical professionals held that his behavior was unprofessional.
“You are looking for moles, not the individual impressions of the attractiveness of body parts,” said Frank W. Ling, former president of the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
On top of glaring red flags with his behavior, chaperones were disturbed with Tyndall’s methods during pelvic exams. Chaperones observed Tyndall unnecessarily determining the speculum’s fit with his own hands before inserting it.
“He would put a finger in and say, ‘Oh, I think it will fit. Let’s put two fingers in,” said a chaperone who worked alongside the doctor for years.
Tyndall defended his behavior by claiming it helped him identify vaginal muscle spasms and that he was attempting to assess the health of pelvic floor muscles. Medical professionals rejected this argument, explaining that it was not a “reliable” way of identifying vaginismus and it was “very odd” and” creepy.”
Assistant professor of gynecology at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Louise King, said that pelvic floor muscles do not typically pose problems for young women and are not examined unless a patient reports pain there.
“It wouldn’t be something a general gynecologist would do by rote,” King said.
After at least five women had refused to see the doctor, saying they felt violated by him, the attending chaperone reported the complaints to her supervisor. The supervisor simply responded “they would look into it.”
USC Gynecologist Targeted International Students
According to one chaperone, many of Tyndall’s patients were international students who were not familiar with medical standards in the US and struggled with a language barrier. Tyndall actively sought to attract Chinese students in particular. He hung up a map of China and asked his patients to point out where they were from, kept a bamboo plant on his shelf, showed off a photo of his Filipina wife and shared details about their relationship to his patients.
“They are so innocent, a lot of them. And they are going to do what you say,” the chaperone said, speaking of international students.
Another student from the Middle East said that when she came in for a visit for birth control, the doctor fixated on her heritage and virginity.
“He offered me a little baggie of blood I could pop on my wedding night so my husband would think I was a virgin,” she said. “I was weirded out, but I was in a rush to get birth control.”
When she returned for a visit, “He asked how many times [my boyfriend and I had sex] and if it hurt because I was tight,” she said.
Tyndall continued providing her short-term birth control prescriptions that required her to revisit the clinic. On one occasion, she became overhwelmed when a clinic staffer tried to take her blood pressure.
“I told her I was feeling pressured … and just wanted my prescription,” she said. The nurse noted her complaint, saying she was not the first, the student said.
USC Health Center Staff Takes Action
Even though Tyndall underwent numerous interviews and investigations, he continued to see up to 16 patients a day. Patients would even emerge from his room in tears.
In a last-ditch effort to spurn action, a health center chaperone went to USC’s rape crisis center and reported Tyndall’s questionable conduct to the executive director, who expressed concern about the issue. Days later, a box of photographs containing images of his patients’ genitals was found by health center staff and confiscated from Tyndall’s office.
Following this discovery, the university worked quickly to remove Tyndall from the campus. While he continued to receive a salary, he was banned from the campus. An outside consulting firm and a gynecologist determined that Tyndall had “exhibited unprofessional and inappropriate behavior” and that his pelvic exams were outside “current standards of care,” USC said in a statement.
Tyndall’s resignation went into effect June 30, 2017, though USC did not inform health center staff until October. An email sent to staff said only that Tyndall was “no longer with the University of Southern California.”
“In hindsight, while not legally obligated, USC now believes it should have filed a consumer complaint with the Medical Board earlier in 2017 when Tyndall resigned,” the university said in a statement.
Tyndall recently renewed his California medical license in January.
Help for Former Tyndall Patients
If you were a patient of George Tyndall’s and feel you may have been violated while under his treatment, help is available. It is normal for victims of inappropriate behavior such as Tyndall’s to feel confused, withdrawn and even embarrassed to talk about it.
If you think you may have been a victim of inappropriate touching, sexual assault or harassment, the attorneys at Hodes Milman want to help. Counseling services are available, and you can receive a free legal consultation to learn more about your rights.
For compassionate, experienced and trusted legal representation, contact the attorneys at Hodes Milman by calling (949) 640-8222 or Cifarelli Law at (888) 703-7833. Even if you are not sure if you want to seek legal action, we can answer any questions you have and help you understand your options.
The attorneys at Hodes Milman and Cifarelli Law have decades of experience defending victims of medical negligence and personal injury. We can help you obtain the justice and peace of mind you deserve to heal during this difficult time.
Call us today at (949) 640-8222 or (888) 703-7833. Your consultation is free of charge and 100% confidential.