Sen. Rand Paul's looming presidential campaign is bringing back memories for many of his fellow ophthalmologists of the time he started his own professional board so he could certify himself and others rather than follow a national board's rule.
During the late 1990s, The Washington Post reports,
the Kentucky Republican, then a young ophthalmologist and not a politician, was angered after the American Board of Ophthalmology made a ruling that its certifications would no longer be good for life except for older doctors.
The board had been testing and certifying eye doctors since 1916, but according to the new rule, certifications would expire after 10 years, requiring doctors to take a test to be recertified.
However, doctors who were certified before 1992 were exempt from the test, which angered Paul as a new ophthalmologist, and he decided to form his own board instead.
He sent letters out to fellow eye doctors, urging them to be certified through his own board, mail in a $500 certification fee and "send a clear letter to the establishment."
Paul started his board in 1997 and started giving doctors certification exams in 2002. It didn't change the more established board's rules about older doctors, reports The Post, but Paul was hoping to take members and money away from the competitor.
Paul helped write the take-home, open-book exam, and Dr. Mark Jones, one of the eye doctors who was certified by the new board in 2003, said the "difficulty was probably harder, and it was more clinically relevant than the old board's exam."
Paul also took the same test, and an aide notified the certification process was the same for everybody.
Jones said he did not hear from the board for years, but he does have a certification signed by "Rand Paul, M.D."
"That is really cool. I’ve got to keep this!" Jones told The Post. "I mean, he may be the next president.”
The plan helped launch the free-market ideals followed by his father, Ron Paul, and family members, and his board lasted more than 10 years. However, it was not successful, and in 2010, when a reporter asked him when he wanted to talk about the board, he replied, "uh, you know, never."
He also declined an interview for The Post's report, issuing a statement saying that he is "proud of my decade-long fight to have all ophthalmologists re-certify, regardless of age.”
Overall, only 50 or 60 doctors were certified on Paul's board, and their certifications were never accepted by the medical establishment, as his board's operations came under scrutiny.
For one, his board officers were his wife and her father, not ophthalmologists. In addition, the board's website was mostly a mission statement, riddled with grammatical errors.
missed a filing deadline in 2000 and Kentucky had it dissolved. Paul kept the board operating though, but did not revive it with the state until 2005.
Meanwhile, Paul has never recertified with the larger national board. Before entering the Senate, he spent 17 years as an eye doctor in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and still has a license to practice, as his state does not require doctors to be board-certified.
He continues to do free surgeries
at home and abroad, and Paducah, Kentucky, Dr. Barbara Bowers, who has done surgeries with him, describes Paul as a "very gifted, skilled surgeon, or I wouldn’t be working with him."
Bowers said Paul handles her most difficult cases involving uninsured patients whose cataracts have hardened inside their eyes, becoming "kind of like a rock that you have to chisel out, and replace piece by piece ... they’re kind of like Third-World-country cataracts."
And there are doctors, including Dr. Frank Burns of Middletown, Kentucky, who lauded Paul for his board, as "he was the only one who came out and said, 'We should have our own board, and have our own tests.'"
But ultimately, Paul never applied to have the American Board of Medical Specialties approve his new board, and without that approval, many hospitals or insurance companies would not accept the doctors on it.
Eventually, not enough doctors signed on, and in 2008, Paul shut down the board's website and in 2011, he did not file the board's annual paperwork and it was legally dissolved again.
Two years later, Paul donated the last $20,000 in the board's accounts to the eye-care charity Orbis International.
Paul never was paid by the board, which spent the rest of its money on mailings and clerical costs, The Post reports.
Longtime friend and adviser Jesse Benton told the Post that the failed board shows Paul's character and that he "never stopped trying."
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