A New Brunswick family doctor will be suspended for at least a year for having "an improper relationship" with a patient, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of New Brunswick announced on Thursday.

The male physician pleaded guilty to professional misconduct under the Medical Act, following a complaint filed by the female patient and her husband last spring, said college registrar Dr. Ed Schollenberg.

The name of the physician and the location of his practice won't be released until the suspension takes effect, which will be "shortly," he said.

'This was the appropriate penalty — and it was agreed to by the physician … sparing a complainant, a patient  [from] testifying.' - Dr. Ed Schollenberg, college registrar

"I can't provide any information on the specifics on this matter as part of an agreement we have with the physician in relationship to the guilty plea and everything associated with it, but all of that will come out."

Schollenberg did say the physician and patient are both "over 50."

The provincial regulatory body announced the "minimum" one-year suspension in a bulletin posted on its website Thursday, following an investigation and discussions among lawyers.

Ed Schollenberg

Dr. Ed Schollenberg, registrar of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of New Brunswick, said the sanction is 'appropriate,' given the circumstances of the case.

Under the Medical Act, the maximum penalty doctors can face for any type of professional misconduct is losing their licence to practise.

A year-long suspension is "about as high as you'd see imposed for this matter by most regulators across the country," said Schollenberg, although sanctions can "vary quite a bit," depending on the specifics of each case.

"In this case it, based on the facts that we knew, this was the appropriate penalty — and it was agreed to by the physician, which is an advantage in terms of moving the matter along, in terms of sparing a complainant, a patient  [from] testifying" at a public hearing," he said.

"So there was a benefit to coming to this conclusion."

Last case 25 years ago

It's been 25 years since the college last suspended a doctor for professional misconduct, Schollenberg said, although it has revoked the licences of doctors found guilty elsewhere of misconduct. 

The suspension, involving Dr. Floyd MacDonald of Hartland, was "quite a different matter," he said.

MacDonald initially pleaded guilty in 1992 to sexual impropriety related to an ongoing relationship with a patient. The college council imposed a one-year suspension, which was later reduced to nine months on appeal to the Court of Appeal.

The following year, however, a board of inquiry found MacDonald guilty of professional misconduct involving nine patients, one of whom was a teenager at the time, as well as some hospital employees.

The patient-related charges included both oral and vaginal intercourse in MacDonald's office or in the patients' homes.

The college revoked MacDonald's licence and ordered he pay the college $75,000 for legal costs.

Accused of sexual abuse

In 1997, St. Stephen psychiatrist Kwabena Agyei Akuffo-Akoto was accused of sexual abuse.

But he left the country before being prosecuted. He was, however, found guilty of professional misconduct in Britain and lost his licence there. In 1999, the college revoked his licence to practise in New Brunswick.

Similarly, a psychiatrist who was licensed in New Brunswick lost his right to practise in Newfoundland in 2007 after he admitted to having sex with a patient. The New Brunswick college later stripped Dr. James Bernard Hanley of his medical licence, based on that ruling.

In 2013, Saint John police laid nine sexual assault charges against local gastroenterologist Dr. Alan Cockeram after several women complained he performed unnecessary and inappropriate breast exams.

But Crown prosecutors later dropped those charges, saying there was no reasonable prospect of conviction.

The college, which received complaints from 24 women, continued with its own investigation of Cockeram and had limited him to treating only male patients. But it quietly dropped all misconduct allegations against him last year.