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A West Palm Beach teenage boy recently pretended to be an OB/GYN for a month without detection. Officials aren’t sure how he suited up for several weeks without anyone realizing out he didn’t belong at the medical center. Even security guards on the scene, familiar with the boy, were certain he belonged on site. This is an outrageous story, but surely another impostor has done worse in a medical setting?
You’d better believe it. In 2002, CBS News and 48 hours uncovered the story of a man who fooled patients and doctors into believing he was a medical professional. The man, Gerald Barnes, revealed, “I did some terrible things.”
He wasn’t kidding.
In 1970s Chicago, Barnes kicked off his long con as a young actor who shelved his stage dreams to become a pharmacist, only to lose his license to Medicaid fraud. The stage called again with a new gig as a fake doctor. After relocating to Los Angeles, he assumed the identity of a real doctor whose name also happened to be Gerald Barnes. He had no problem convincing the State Medical Board that his fictitious, spurned wife had burned all his credentials, including his medical license and degree. Barnes found employment at a walk-in clinic. He consulted with patients, prescribed medication, diagnosed ailments, and even performed minor surgery. That last duty? He practiced on a chicken and called the act a “piece of cake.”
All along, the real Dr. Barnes toiled away as an orthopedic surgeon 300 miles away. His impostor’s game continued unabated until transferring to a larger clinic where doctors questioned the quality of his work. Once it became apparent that Barnes was suturing patients’ skin incorrectly and failing to keep a sterile environment, his fellow doctors knew something was amiss.
Nonetheless, fake Barnes persisted in his ruse for several years until failing to recognize obvious signs of diabetes in a patient, whom he sent home without administering proper care. Authorities charged Barnes with murder, but that didn’t stop him from making bail, plea bargaining down to involuntary manslaughter, and finding another physician gig.
The cycle continued, with Barnes moving from clinic to clinic (over 14 of them). Likewise, he convinced 5 different women to marry him and served 3 prison stints for impersonating a doctor. None of that stopped a health system from hiring him as executive director, where his main client was the FBI. There, he provided care for over 400 patients, including 100 women who received OB/GYN exams from him. Authorities would send him to prison, and he’d escape, throw on another white coat, and easily find a new job.
In 2009, CNBC uncovered Barnes’ real identity, David Barnbaum. He showed no remorse. Barnbaum currently resides in a Pennsylvania federal prison, where he should remain until 2018.