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Anesthesiologist keeps medical license after being caught high on the job

Consumer Watchdog says medical board not following state standards.
Doctors
Posted at 5:01 PM, Apr 30, 2024

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — An anesthesiologist who was slurring her words and walking into hospital walls after she injected herself with an anesthetic while at work can continue to see patients.

The Medical Board of California has put Dr. Anna Michelle Bowling on probation for seven years for practicing medicine while under the influence.

“I found it rather alarming by reviewing (the) accusation that a cease practice order wasn’t issued for this physician, especially when it was discovered that she was under the influence while on duty,” said Michele Monseratt-Ramos, a patient advocate with the Consumer Watchdog nonprofit.

The board said Bowling, a certified life coach in Carlsbad, was impaired with propofol, a powerful anesthetic, while working at Scripps Memorial Hospital in Encinitas on May 5, 2022.

She had gone missing during her shift, according to factual allegations from the board in a recent disciplinary order.

Bowling repeatedly walked into walls while trying to leave the hospital, the board said.

'Looks disheveled, glassy eyed'

“Respondent agreed that she could have been called to report to an operating room after she self-administered the propofol intravenously,” the settlement and disciplinary order says.

A physician at the hospital said he found Bowling in an on-call suite bathroom.

“Dr. P.C. immediately observes that (Bowling) looks disheveled, glassy-eyed, and staggers as she walks,” the medical board said.

The doctor reported that Bowling tried to sign out of the physician’s shift log but had trouble writing and could only scribble her sign-out information.

“Upon leaving the on-call suite, (Bowling) staggers as she slowly walks down the hospital hallway and repeatedly walks into walls towards the exit to the physician's parking lot,” the medical board said.

Tried to drive off impaired

Once outside, Bowling got in her car and started its engine, the board said. Her colleague stopped her from driving away and called another doctor for help. That physician parked his car behind Bowling’s to prevent her from backing up.

Bowling “becomes increasingly agitated and Dr. P.C. calls hospital security for assistance with the situation,” the board said.

Security then called law enforcement who determined she was impaired. Sheriff’s deputies told the anesthesiologist if she tried to leave again, she would be arrested for driving under the influence.

Bowling left in a rideshare and the incident was reported to the medical board.

In an interview with the licensing body, she admitted to taking a syringe with propofol from the operating room one other time.

“At our facility propofol is not a controlled substance,” she said, admitting she could’ve been called to the operating room after she injected herself with the anesthetic.

Bowling admitted she stole other narcotics including fentanyl, hydromorphone, and midazolam.

“According to (Bowling), she stole drugs from the operating room 11 or 12 times during the month of April 2022.”

A psychiatrist hired by the medical board to evaluate Bowling concluded her “practice of medicine would pose a danger or threat to public health, welfare or safety.”

Psychiatrist says doctor practicing would "pose a danger"

Bowling told the board she took the anesthetic “to decrease the emotional pain she was feeling” and admitted there is a “risk of harming a patient” when an anesthesiologist takes propofol during their shift.

Monseratt-Ramos said the medical board should have issued a cease practice order when it learned about the incident. She said it prevents a doctor from practicing for a month and allows drug testing to happen so the board can determine if a physician has a problem or if it was a random occurrence.

“The medical board isn't following the uniform standards,” she said in an interview from Los Angeles.

The board told Team 10 it can’t issue a cease practice order until after it’s done an investigation.

Monseratt-Ramos said the board can be aware of substance-abusing physicians and the doctors aren’t required to alert patients.

Medical board spokesperson Alexandria Schembra said the agency can require a doctor to notify patients as part of a probation order about their drug problems.

In Bowling’s case, she’s required to tell patients she’s on probation and submit to random drug testing in addition to attending a substance abuse support group.

Schembra maintains the board is following uniform standards.

Doctor's shown 'extraordinary dedication': attorney

Bowling’s attorney David Balfour said his client has shown "extraordinary dedication" to her well-being and her patients by voluntarily implementing many steps on her own.

"She has been and will be fully compliant with the Medical Board's terms and conditions. Moving forward, Dr. Bowling hopes to make a positive impact on the well-being of other physicians and medical professionals,” he said in an email to Team 10.

Scripps Health spokesperson Janice Collins told Team 10 Bowling hasn’t worked at a Scripps facility since May 2022.

“Physicians are not employees of Scripps Health, but are members of an independent, self-governing medical staff. The proceedings and records of a medical staff are confidential pursuant to California law,” she said in an email.

Bowling’s LinkedIn says she is currently employed as an anesthesiologist for the Anesthesia Service Medical Group in San Diego.

Team 10 tried repeatedly to get comment from the company, but our calls and emails were not returned.

The medical board has ordered Bowling to pay over $56,000 for the cost of its investigation and is requiring her to take an ethics course and see a psychologist. She’s been put on probation for seven years and isn’t allowed to see patients alone except in special circumstances.