Nova Scotia psychiatrist given 4-month suspension after licking colleague

The hearing committee of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia found Dr. Enyinnaya Ezema guilty of professional misconduct in September 2017 and ordered the suspension on July 3.

College of Physicians and Surgeons also orders Dr. Enyinnaya Ezema to pay $75,000 in legal fees

Dr. Enyinnaya Ezema was found guilty of professional misconduct. (Robert Short/CBC)

A psychiatrist who practised in New Glasgow, N.S., has been handed a four-month suspension on his licence for licking a colleague's bottom lip and making sexually suggestive comments to another co-worker.

The hearing committee of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia found Dr. Enyinnaya Ezema guilty of professional misconduct in September 2017 and ordered the suspension on July 3.

The decision, as well as the suspension, were made public by the college on July 17. Ezema denied the allegations against him.

According to the committee's written decision, Ezema was discussing a mutual patient with a nurse on Dec. 16, 2014, at an outpatient facility on East River Road in New Glasgow. After exchanging holiday greetings, he put out his arms to offer the nurse a hug.

"Dr. Ezema ran his tongue along her bottom lip and she couldn't pull back to get away from him. She was able to twist around and left the room," the decision reads.

The woman filed a complaint to her employer, the Pictou County Health Authority, on Jan. 5, 2015. She complained to the college in March of that year.

Ezema was also charged with assault. But at the criminal trial in February 2016, the Crown asked for a stay of proceedings after hearing testimony from the victim. A spokesperson for the Public Prosecution Service said the Crown made the decision because there was not a reasonable possibility of conviction.

'You look expensive'

During the college's investigation of the December 2014 incident, two other colleagues were interviewed about their interactions with Ezema, although neither filed formal complaints.

Ezema was found guilty of professional misconduct relating to a number of occasions in 2013 involving one of the co-workers, referred to in the committee's decision as Colleague A.

She said Ezema invited her to his home for coffee, saying his wife would not be home. He also invited her on a trip to Scotland and made inappropriate comments about her appearance.

The woman, a social worker where Ezema then worked, said in March 2013 he told her the boots she was wearing looked expensive and added, "You look expensive."

"She said that the tone of the comment 'you look expensive' felt sexualized," the decision states. "In our view, this was a demeaning comment connoting his view that Colleague A wearing those boots looked like a prostitute."

Colleague A spent many months avoiding him, but eventually wrote him an email in December 2014.

"I felt that a social worker making a formal complaint against a doctor would likely be discouraged and, to be honest, not dealt with," she wrote in a workplace complaint form, filed in March 2015 when she left her employment for another job. "I made the choice to send an email asking him to stop." 

The decision states she returned to her previous job after Ezema left.

The college notes there is a significant status difference between a psychiatrist and a social worker, which "puts her at a disadvantage."

The hearing included testimony from a third woman, also a nurse, who said in January 2015 Ezema asked her about her personal relationship status and said he'd be taking her out for a drink some time.

While the college noted again there was a power imbalance, it concluded it did not constitute professional misconduct.

Her incident report was also provided to Ezema's director, Dr. Theresa Vienneau. She testified that she spoke with Ezema about it and he denied it.

There is no mention whether there was any followup on the incident from Vienneau.

'Deliberate, repeated breaches'

Ezema denied all of the allegations, but acknowledged there was an incident in December 2014.

At the hearing, he denied offering the woman a hug, saying in his culture men do not offer a handshake to a woman unless she initiates a handshake. Ezema was born in Nigeria and trained as a psychiatrist in Ireland, practising there until he moved to New Glasgow in 2012.

But the college said this was "not convincing."

"Dr. Ezema himself needs to be sent a strong message," the disposition reads. "In our opinion, there was deliberate repeated breaches of professional sexual boundaries."

The college requested that the hearing committee revoke Ezema's licence to practice. But while the commitee said his conduct was "serious" and the December incident "constitutes an assault and sexual harassment," it ultimately ruled the findings didn't justify revoking his licence.

"While we agree with the college that sexual harassment by physicians in the workplace in unacceptable ... In our opinion, revocation of his licence is disproportionate to Dr. Ezema's misconduct."

The College of Physicians and Surgeons refused an interview request. It said their "sole spokesperson," Dr. Gus Grant, is on vacation until Aug. 15.

Suspension, legal fees

Right now, Ezema does not have a licence to practice.

In April 2015, Grant told CBC News that Ezema was no longer licensed because his licence was conditional on the support of a sponsor, who withdrew the sponsorship.

However, the decision states that after the assault charge in April, the college held his licence in abeyance. He returned to practice in August 2015.

In March 2016, an interim restriction was put on his licence, which required he only see patients with a chaperone. An investigation committee later determined he wasn't a risk to patients.

At the time of the September decision, Ezema was employed by the Nova Scotia Health Authority as a practising psychiatrist in Amherst.

But by the time the disposition hearing was held in January 2018, Ezema did not have a licence to practice. The hearing committee said it was "because of a failure to qualify for his licence that was unrelated to this matter."

His four-month suspension will begin when he becomes eligible to resume practice.

Ezema was also ordered to pay $75,000 in legal fees, but does not have to until his licence is reinstated.