Dr. John Bookwalter, MD. (Reformer file photo)
Dr. John Bookwalter, MD. (Reformer file photo)

BRATTLEBORO -- A former Brattleboro surgeon who had restrictions put on his medical license by the Vermont Board of Medical Practice has received the highest honor from the Vermont Medical Society.

Dr. John Bookwalter received this year's Distinguished Service Award from the Vermont Medical Society in recognition of his almost 40 years of medical service, and for his innovation in developing surgical tools that are used around the world.

Bookwalter had restrictions put on his medical license in October 2011 following an investigation by the Vermont Board of Medical Practice into Bookwalter's use of treating obesity with a variety of medicines that are not prescribed for weight loss.

Vermont Medical Society spokesman Justin Campfield said the nominating committee chose Bookwalter for his decades of service to his patients, and for the innovation he brought to developing new medical instruments.

"Obviously the membership was aware of the issues he has faced," Campfield said. "But they felt that Dr. Bookwalter should be recognized for his efforts and that those issues should not come into play."

Bookwalter never disputed that he was treating his patients for obesity with non-conventional methods, but he argued vehemently against the methods of the investigation and said his patients never complained or suffered side effects.

"This is a tremendous honor," Bookwalter said of the Medical Society award. "But I would give it back in a second to have my license reinstated without conditions."

Bookwalter said he continues to argue against the investigation process, saying that investigators should not have access to patient records.

He said board members of the Vermont Medical Society supported him during the investigation.

Dr. David Butsch, a surgeon at Central Vermont Medical Center and past president of Vermont Medical Society, nominated Bookwalter for this year's Distinguished Service Award

"We nominated him without reference to the issues the Medical Practice Board brought up," Butsch said. "We nominated him to recognize the many accomplishments of his long career, and for the care he gave his patients in Brattleboro, as well as to the patients who traveled to see him."

The Vermont Medical Society has been giving out its Distinguished Service Award every year since 1948 and the award typically is given to a senior member of the state's medical profession.

Bookwalter received the honor at the society's 200th annual meeting which was held Oct. 19 at the Basin Harbor Club in Vergennes.

According to its website, the Vermont Medical Society is "The leading voice of physicians in the state and is dedicated to advancing the practice of medicine by advocating on behalf of Vermont's doctors and the patients and communities they care for."

"My father and my grandfather were both physicians and my father told me it was privilege to care for sick people," Bookwalter said. "He taught me to take care of every patient as if they were a member of my family. All I wanted to do was be as good a doctor as my father and grandfather. That was my goal."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at hwtisman@reformer.com; or 802-254-2311, ext. 279. You can follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer