Özlem . (33) stares down, her tousled hair tucked into her black sweater, sleeves pulled over her hands. She was trapped in a “circle of lies,” she told the judge. “I couldn’t figure it out myself.”
The court of Zwolle heard the case of Ölzem Ü on Monday, who is suspected of forgery, identity fraud, fraud and violation of the Individual Health Care Professions Act (BIG). Özlem is said to have applied with false documents at more than 15 healthcare facilities and hospitals from 2017 to 2020. She forged a doctor’s degree and a passport. So that on paper she had the same name as a doctor who is in the BIG register. This register contains more than 350,000 care providers with their professional qualifications and any reprimands from the Medical Disciplinary Court. The real doctor is now in court with her sister behind Özlem. “I want to say sorry,” zlem says, but she doesn’t dare look back.
In 2020, Özlem applied for a job at Deventer Hospital, where the sister of the doctor whose BIG registration she used happened to work. The sister was asked if she and Özlem were related. This is how suspicion arose. In May 2020, Özlem was arrested in hospital. Passes from other medical institutions were found in her house: Gelderse Vallei Hospital in Ede, the Maxima Medical Center in Eindhoven, Thuisvaccinatie.nl. On her computer were documents from the Alrijne Hospital in Leiderdorp – where she had applied as a cardiology assistant. In her car they found papers from driver’s license inspections.nl. In July 2020, the Health and Youth Care Inspectorate issued a warning about her by disclosing her full name and date of birth.
The court president sees “a pattern”. When Özlem was hired, and she became almost everywhere, she often only worked there for a short time. After that, she never showed up, quit her job, or called in sick.
Özlem also treated patients. She would have spent two nights at a GP post. She examined a baby with shortness of breath and gave a patient with back problems an injection of the painkiller diclofinac – Özlem denies this. For Thuisvaccinaties.nl she gave vaccinations for five months and prescribed the malaria pills. At the Hyperthermia Center in Amsterdam, she applied IVs, conducted intake interviews and gave hyperthermia treatments to cancer patients, in which a tumor is heated by radiation. The chairman: “They thought you did well there, I understand from the report.” She was only discharged after the clinic was warned by the inspectorate.
When Özlem was hired, she often only worked there for a short time
The question in court today is: why did she do all this? Despite a childhood with a depressed mother, in which she had to take care of her brothers and sisters, Özlem managed to obtain a VWO diploma. She always wanted to be a doctor, she says. She went to study medicine, but in the first year she got cancer. Skin cancer, “and also a tumor near the heart?”, says the court president in despair. “Is that right? Because no further research is being done on that at the moment.” Özlem says she neglected herself in recent years, failed to come to checkups. She has post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and borderline. She can’t talk about things from her childhood. She’s in treatment. “I am aware that a lot is not right, up here.”
Did she actually tell her parents that she subsequently received a binding negative study advice, the judge wants to know. “No,” she says. “Wasn’t that also something to do with it?”, the judge wants to know. He means: by lying. “A little bit,” she says.
“What I think is the worst,” says the prosecutor, “is how the lady dealt with the feelings of vulnerable patients.” He is seeking eighteen months in prison, six of which are suspended.
According to Özlem’s lawyer, she “couldn’t live with reality”. But he says there is no evidence that she has caused health damage in patients. “I ask for compassion for that little pile of misery sitting next to me.”
She has no one left, zlem says, sobbing. “But I am myself again. Not the fake doctor anymore.”
A verdict will follow in two weeks, on Monday 13 December.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of November 30, 2021