George Tyndall was allowed to continue seeing student patients for years despite accusations of inappropriate behavior during exams. USC For nearly 30 years, the University of Southern California's student health clinic had one full-time gynecologist: Tall and garrulous, he treated tens of thousands of female students, many of them teenagers seeing a gynecologist for the first time.
Few who lay down on Tyndall's exam table at the Engemann Student Health Center knew that he had been accused repeatedly of misconduct toward young patients.
Advertisement The complaints began in the s, when co-workers alleged he was improperly photographing students' genitals. In the years that followed, patients and nursing staff accused him again and again of "creepy" behavior, including touching women inappropriately during pelvic exams and making sexually suggestive remarks about their bodies.
Still, Tyndall was allowed to continue practicing. It was not until , when a frustrated nurse went to the campus rape crisis center, that he was suspended. An internal USC investigation determined that Tyndall's behavior during pelvic exams was outside the scope of current medical practice and amounted to sexual harassment of students. But in a secret deal last summer, top administrators allowed Tyndall to resign quietly with a financial payout.
The university did not inform Tyndall's patients. Nor did USC report him at the time to the Medical Board of California, the agency responsible for protecting the public from problem doctors. The statement said that "in hindsight," USC should have reported him.
The university said it belatedly filed a complaint with the medical board March 9 after a request by Tyndall to be reinstated. It was about a month after Times reporters began questioning university employees about Tyndall. Max Nikias sent a letter to the campus community Tuesday morning in advance of the publication of this story.
Nikias noted that he had two daughters who attended USC and called Tyndall's conduct "a profound breach of trust. In interviews with The Times, Tyndall, 71, insisted that he had done nothing wrong. He said he performed exams that were extremely thorough, but always appropriate. This story is based on interviews with more than 20 current and former USC employees.
Most spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing patient confidentiality laws and the potential of a negative effect on their careers. The Times also reviewed more than pages of documents related to complaints against Tyndall and his response.
He told people he had selected the job over higher paying opportunities to work with the bright, sophisticated women of what he often called "the Stanford of the South.
Advertisement In the exam room, he was accompanied by a female nurse or medical assistant known as a chaperone — a practice embraced by many male gynecologists.
In the years after he started, some chaperones became alarmed about the frequency with which he used a camera during pelvic exams, according to Tyndall and three colleagues with firsthand knowledge of the concerns. Gynecologists can have legitimate reasons to take pictures, including research, teaching and soliciting second opinions from colleagues.
Tyndall's chaperones in the s questioned his motivations, the sources said. One chaperone recalled him taking multiple pictures of hundreds of patients' genitals, while another said she witnessed 50 to patients photographed.
Bernadette Kosterlitzky, a clinic nurse from to , said that after a chaperone alerted administrators to the camera, then-Executive Director Dr.
Lawrence Neinstein ordered it removed. Neinstein died in Tyndall said he photographed patients' cervixes and external genitals only with their permission and for valid reasons. In some cases, he said, he wanted to allay students' fears that they had genital warts. In others, he wanted to document cervical exams in case a patient later filed a lawsuit accusing him of missing a cancer diagnosis. He said the images were magnified and not sexual, but acknowledged chaperones were suspicious.
Students also spoke up. In the early s, at least three patients submitted letters complaining about inappropriate touching and remarks, according to a member of the clinic oversight committee who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The letters, the source said, were read aloud during monthly committee meetings. After the third time that an "alarming" letter about Tyndall was read aloud, the committee member said, he confronted Neinstein.
Something needs to be done,'" he recalled. The source provided university records that corroborate his account. Tyndall said he was never told of the complaints. It's unclear what action Neinstein took, if any. USC said last week it had no information about the committee letters and that the deceased executive director had "handled patient complaints independently. Some concerned "racially insensitive" remarks.
Tyndall was accused at various times in his tenure of making insulting comments about African Americans and Latinos. Tyndall could not be reached to respond to these allegations. Other reports in Neinstein's file were about Tyndall's patient care. Advertisement Engemann Student Health Center opened in Within months of the grand opening, chaperones observed behavior in the exam room that unsettled them, according to interviews with current and former employees as well as internal communications and notes reviewed by The Times.
Chaperones were concerned about what Tyndall described as a full body scan for unusual moles. They said Tyndall frequently had women lie naked on the exam table while he slowly inspected every part of their body, down to the area between their buttocks.
While he worked, he made comments that the nursing staff found unseemly. He described patients' skin as "flawless," "creamy" or "beautiful," according to multiple people who witnessed the exams or were told about them. They said he remarked on students' "perky breasts. Multiple witnesses to the exams told The Times that many patients were silent and did not complain. She and other clinic staffers said his behavior was often trained on international students from Asia. And they are going to do what you say," the chaperone said.
In a memo to The Times, Tyndall said the body scans were to look for skin cancer and other conditions that warranted referral to a dermatologist. In interviews, he said a patient once asked him if her breasts were "perky," and he used the word only in response to her query. Some of the other comments reported by the chaperones were misinterpreted, he said. Multiple experts said a woman's annual gynecological visit could include a discussion of skin problems, but said meticulous inspections of a patient's nude body would be highly unusual if not inappropriate.
They also said a physician should confine his comments to medical observations. Ling, the former president of the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology and co-author of a medical school textbook on the field. In the spring of , eight chaperones reported concerns about Tyndall to their supervisor, veteran nurse Cindy Gilbert.
She went to Neinstein, the clinic's executive director, and the head of clinic nursing, Tammie Akiyoshi. Gilbert said Neinstein told her that he had talked to Tyndall about his behavior in the past. Akiyoshi, now the clinic's executive director, did not respond to interview requests.
Neinstein referred the complaints to the university's Office of Equity and Diversity, which investigates sexual misconduct and racial and gender discrimination. An investigator interviewed seven employees and a patient, according to USC. Tyndall, Gilbert and multiple chaperones who complained said they were never informed of the probe or questioned by the investigator.
She said one patient described him as "creepy" and a staff member recalled overhearing him tell a patient, "You are pretty enough to be a model. The investigation concluded there was no violation of school policy. Neinstein informed Tyndall in the fall of that Gilbert had complained about him.
In an interview, he said he felt blindsided and upset by what he viewed as false allegations. The only action Neinstein took as a result of the investigation was barring the gynecologist from locking the door of his office when with patients, according to Tyndall, Gilbert and others who worked with them. Rattled by the accusations, Tyndall said he concluded his bosses didn't understand how much students liked him and launched a campaign to collect positive feedback. As some students left their appointments, he handed them a letter.
In interviews, Tyndall said he and his supervisors received scores of glowing emails from students. He provided copies of some letters to The Times with the author's names redacted. A student in USC's public policy program wrote in that she had seen four gynecologists before Tyndall, and he was the first not to cause her pain. A first-year student in said she was nervous about her appointment — the first made without her parents' help.
Tyndall, she wrote, made her feel "extremely informed and well cared for. USC has aggressively wooed international students in recent years. The largest contingent is from China with about 5, students enrolled in During consultations in his office, Tyndall tried to connect with these students, he said.
He ordered a map of China and encouraged women to point out their home province. He kept a bamboo plant, the traditional Chinese symbol of longevity and vitality, on a shelf above his desk, and recalled how some patients liked to take pictures of it. He sometimes showed off a photo of his Filipina wife and shared details of their relationship, according to two former patients.
A lot of [Chinese] patients would say, 'My friend recommended you,'" Tyndall said in an interview. As he courted these patients, Tyndall's co-workers were becoming increasingly disturbed by his behavior in the exam room. On top of the conduct they had already reported, chaperones began discussing the way Tyndall used his fingers during the pelvic exam for many young women. In the final stage of the exam, gynecologists often assess the uterus for lumps and other abnormalities by inserting two fingers inside a patient while pressing on her lower abdomen.
Advertisement What troubled chaperones was Tyndall's use of his fingers at the start of the exam. Before inserting a speculum, the metal duck-billed device that spreads open the walls of the vagina and enables the doctor to view the cervix, he would voice concern that the speculum might not fit.
Let's put two fingers in,'" said a chaperone who worked with Tyndall for years. Four people familiar with Tyndall's exams said that while he spoke, he was moving his fingers in and out of the patients.
They said he made nearly identical statements to hundreds of women as he probed them: My, what a tight muscle you have.