William “Ed” Kois: whistleblower who exposed substandard care at a US veterans hospitalBMJ 2019; 366 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.l5325 (Published 30 August 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;366:l5325
- Ned Stafford
- Hamburg, Germany
A specialist in rehabilitation and pain management, William “Ed” Kois was not your typical doctor. He swore a lot,1 he wore a goatee and muttonchop whiskers that would have made him feel at home in the 19th century, and although bald on the top of his head, he wore the rest of his hair in a long ponytail.
Kois also had an uncompromising attitude and fighting spirit, which he had inherited from his father who had worked in coal mines and was an amateur boxer. Unlike many American doctors, Kois did not play golf nor did he belong to a country club. He had worked in a car factory and a steel mill.
His patients loved him, and he loved his patients.
“I think I’m a blue collar doctor,” Kois once said in a newspaper interview.2 “My roots are blue collar, and I’m proud of that. I think I relate to my patients because of that.”
During the final years of his life, Kois fought a prolonged battle—at great cost to his own personal health—to improve medical care for patients at the US Veterans Administration (VA) Medical Center in Manchester, New Hampshire. The hospital is part of the massive VA medical system in the US that provides healthcare for men and women who have served in the military.
Kois, with a reputation as one of the best diagnosticians in New Hampshire, quit his private practice in Nashua in 2012 to join the Manchester VA hospital as head of the spinal cord clinic. A few years later he led a mutiny of 10 other doctors and medical staff, who risked their careers to fight poor hospital management that resulted in substandard care.
After nearly two years of internal attempts to convince management to take action to improve care proved …