University of Iowa radiology professor cleared of alcohol violations

Appeals court reverses disciplinary action against Smoker

Vanessa Miller
Published: April 25 2013 | 11:12 am - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 2:30 pm in
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The Iowa Court of Appeals has reversed and remanded a disciplinary action taken by the Iowa Board of Medicine against a University of Iowa radiology professor cited for excessive use of alcohol.

That ruling, made this week, means the disciplinary action levied against Wendy R. K. Smoker in January 2011 and affirmed by a district court judge in July 2012 will be dismissed, according to the appellate court’s ruling.

“Upon our review of the record as a whole, there is no substantial evidence of Dr. Smoker’s excessive use of alcohol which may impair her ability to practice medicine,” according to the written ruling.

Smoker was cited in January 2011 for excessive use of alcohol that could impair her ability to practice medicine and fined $5,000. Smoker also was given five years probation, requiring her to participate in monitoring, drug screening, substance abuse meetings, therapy and quarterly reports.

The board handed down those penalties even after saying during a disciplinary hearing that there “is no evidence Dr. Smoker has consumed alcohol or been impaired while working, but she would become a danger to the public and her patients if she resumes actively drinking… .”

The board based that decision on the fact that Smoker is an admitted and diagnosed alcoholic and that she relapsed on two occasions in September 2009.

In the Court of Appeals’ ruling remanding and reversing the disciplinary action, it questions from the outset the propriety of the investigation conducted by the Board of Medicine’s chief investigator in response to a complaint against Smoker.

“Normally, the board investigates claims brought against physicians by interviewing the accused physician, witnesses, colleagues, and the complainant in order to determine whether the allegations are founded,” according to the appellate court’s ruling. “In this case, however, no interviews were conducted.”

Instead, the investigative report submitted to the board was comprised of an “executive summary,” which the chief investigator said he didn’t review.

The Court of Appeals found that “a reasonable mind would find the facts and circumstances presented in this proceeding to be inadequate to reach the conclusion reached by the board.”

Smoker started as an intern with the UI’s radiology department in 1977 and officially joined the staff in 2001. She still is employed with the university, and her title is professor of radiology, neurosurgery and neurology, according to UI spokesman Tom Moore.

The charge that led to this week’s appellate court ruling originally was filed in June 2010. But on July 26, 2012, the board filed new charges against Smoker for her failure to pay on time the fine associated with the first charge and for drinking alcohol while on vacation in another country – a violation of her probation.

Even though the newer alleged violations relate to the first charge, which has now been dismissed, Iowa Board of Medicine Executive Director Mark Bowden said that doesn’t necessarily mean they will be dropped as well.

“They are separate and distinct, although related,” Bowden said. “The board is going to have to review this decision and determine with the Attorney General’s Office what the next step is on this – or whether there is a next step.”

Bowden said he can't comment on whether the board will address the appellate court's criticisms of its investigative process.

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