Contraindications: Dr. Khanh Gia Pham

Published on
May 5, 2009

President Barack Obama is searching for a new surgeon general. He might consider screening the resumes of doctors a little lower in the federal ranks.

Dr. Khanh Gia Pham of Westminster (License No. A41805) is a "civil surgeon," meaning that he has been designated by the federal government as one of the few doctors in the area who can examine people trying to change their immigration status. As the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Web site notes, "medical examinations will not be recognized if they are given by a doctor in the U.S. who is not a Civil Surgeon; please make sure that your appointment is with a Civil Surgeon or your results and documents will be invalid."

Pham is one of only four civil surgeons in Westminster, home to the largest Vietnamese population outside of Vietnam. He continues to enjoy that designation and the resulting business despite an ongoing Medical Board of California investigation that has found him "unable to safely practice medicine."

Pham was put on probation in March 2008 and ordered to attend PACE, the Physician Assessment and Clinical Education Program, which is the main way for doctors in California to brush up on their skills.

According to the medical board, he failed to adequately diagnose and treat an elementary school student who was having serious asthma attacks. He did manage to diagnose the student with diabetes, Hepatitis B and high cholesterol. The student ended up in the emergency room. When a different doctor finally prescribed the student some basic asthma medications - two puffs of Advair and some Nasonex every day - his asthma symptoms improved.

A 64-year-old man treated by Pham did not fare so well. The Medical Board found that Pham prescribed drugs to the man that may have interacted badly with other medication he was taking. He died not long after getting home from the pharmacy.

Pham completed PACE by the end of July 2008. At the end of September 2008, the head of the PACE program, Dr. William Norcross, wrote:

"The results of this seven-day comprehensive assessment indicate that Dr. Pham lacks sufficient knowledge and adequate clinical judgment necessary to avoid potentially serious errors in patient management and subsequent care. The results of multiple tests and observations were uniformly consistent, and the picture they provide show deficiencies that lead the PACE program to conclude that Dr. Pham is unable to safely practice medicine."

Five months later, in February 2009, the Medical Board moved to revoke Pham's license. This is nearly three years after the doctor's diagnoses resulted in a grade school kid being put in an ambulance and a 64-year-old man being put in a hearse.

If you are a Vietnamese immigrant in Westminster hoping to become a citizen or land a work permit, there is a one-in-four chance you will be examined by Pham.