The Fantastical World of Damian Jacob Markiewicz Sendler
John M. Grohol, Psy.D.
Meet Damian Jacob Markiewicz Sendler aka Dr. Damian Jacob Sendler aka Damian Dariusz Markiewicz.
According to him, he’s “an award-winning Polish-American clinician sexologist, the scholar of forensic and legal medicine, the scientist trained in digital epidemiology, and the media health expert personality.” He’s been quoted by more than a dozen online publications internationally about his unique research examining human sexual behavior.
However, according to Gizmodo journalist Jennings Brown, much of his professional résumé and background is a lie. Is Brown right or is Sendler a bona fide scientist who simply got caught in a media witch hunt?
Brown writes, “Sendler is a serial fabulist… Many of these platforms have published Sendler’s lies and publicized his bizarre and irresponsible studies on necrophilia, zoophilia, lethal erotic asphyxiation, and sexual assault. And until recently, he was soliciting patients through his website where he offered online psychotherapy and sex therapy.”
Let’s Meet Dr. Sendler
The problems with understanding Sendler’s experience start with his educational background.
Damian Jacob Sendler’s old CV (since removed from his website) clearly lists his title as “Dr.” suggesting that he has a medical or doctoral degree in something. Later in the same CV, he states, “Dr. Sendler completed training through rigorous M.D.-Sc.D./Ph.D. training path [sic]. He studied and researched at NYU, Columbia, Harvard, Warsaw Institute of Psychiatry, and Jagiellonian Collegium Medicum.”
In his interview with Brown, Sendler confirms his credentials: “’I got into Harvard Medical School for MD, PhD, and Masters degree combined,’ Sendler told me. I asked if he was able to get a PhD in sexual behavior from Harvard Medical School (Harvard Medical School does not provide any sexual health focuses) and he said ‘Yes. Yes,’ without hesitation…”
Contrary to his assertions, Sendler apparently does not actually have an MD, Ph.D. or any other graduate degree from Harvard. After graduating from New York University in 2012, he worked in various Boston-based labs (sometimes as an unpaid intern, other times as a paid assistant) until mid-2015. He moved to Poland for two years to pursue graduate and medical school training there, and moved back to the U.S. in mid-2017.
Simple math tells us that unless he had some extraordinary, unheard-of fast-tracked experience, there is no possible way he could’ve earned a doctorate or M.D. in just two years — something that takes everyone else five years or more.
A colleague of his from Poland remembers his time at the university there: “According to what I remember, Mr. Sendler graduated 2 first years [sic] of our medical program (theory) and decided to start clinic rotations in USA right after. In the meantime, he started working on [his] PhD in USA, as he wrote me about.”
The Gizmodo article confirms that since returning to the U.S., Sendler is back in school — but not for a Ph.D.
“In August 2017 Sendler was admitted into the Harvard Extension School as a Master of Liberal Arts degree candidate, according to a spokesperson for Harvard’s Division of Continuing Education (DCE). But this is not an institution that can grant MDs or PhDs.”
I reached out to Damian Sendler directly in an email to try and get some clarification and shed some light on the confusing details of his education — what kind of advanced doctoral degree he actually holds and from what university. Most professionals and researchers are happy to share such information with colleagues and journalists without any reservation.
But in his reply, Sendler initially ducked my inquiries regarding his specific credentials. Instead, he wrote back, saying in part:
“It was not until last year that reporters started asking me for comments, referring to past studies. This is one example of how this story was twisted against me. The obvious confusion is that I’ve done my own research in Eastern Europe. I’ve worked with patients as part of dissertation research and MD training. But since I live most of the time in the US now, I’m being mislabeled as seeing patients here. I’ll happily clarify these discrepancies.”
It’s not clear whether Sendler understands that just because you conduct research with a BA or BS degree, that doesn’t make you a “Dr.”
“The reporter essentially picks up the story line by denying me the privilege of being a “Dr.” because most of my graduate education was completed in Europe. There are plenty of foreign scientists living in the US. Therefore, there’s confusion with whether I have a license to practice science or medicine, even though I don’t practice in the US.”
It’s not just that Sendler obfuscates his educational background. Lots of people take graduate courses and medical school courses. But there is a vast gulf between taking a few graduate courses and actually graduating with a doctorate or M.D. It appears Sendler is claiming that just because he conducts research with his Bachelor’s degree, he deserves the title “Dr.” This is an unconventional view shared by few if any professionals in America, much less Europe.
A Polish colleague of Sendler’s who was contacted to discuss Sendler’s academic degrees was secretive and defensive, refusing to discuss the matter further, citing European privacy laws (something Sendler also cited in one of his replies to me). This was a transparent, clumsy dodge, however, since such laws govern institutions and organizations — not colleagues sharing information about another colleague’s academic credentials.
Jagiellonski Collegium Medicum did confirm to me that he attended school there. But here is what they said about his doctoral status:
Damian Jacob Markiewicz Sendler is a PhD student at the Faculty of Health Sciences since 2017. He does not have a doctorate degree yet.
A further, 4,500-word followup email from Sendler covered many topics. But when it came to proof of his doctorate — the primary thing I was interested in talking to him about — he claimed his lawyer advised him not to share that information with me. Based upon my email exchanges with Sendler and my research into his background, I believe that his reticence has little to do with his lawyer and everything to do with the likelihood that he doesn’t yet have a doctoral or medical degree.
The published sexologist seems only to have a bachelor’s degree.
It’s Not Just the ‘Dr.’ Title That’s Not Entirely Real
Sendler also has created an entire institution to support his research work.
At Felnett Health Research Foundation, he serves as “chief of the division of clinical research and is director of the European program on studying sexual minorities and health policy.” Look at all these people Sendler oversees in his lab. But is any of this real? Does the organization exist? Does it have offices?
With Sendler’s help, I discovered that the Felnett Health Research Foundation actually does exist as an organization in Poland. But contrary to Sendler’s assertion that Felnett is a “non-profit scientific organization in public service,” it is not an actual public benefit organization (what the Polish government calls a charity or non-governmental organization). A public benefit organization (abbreviated OPP in Polish) is equivalent to a non-profit or charity organization in the U.S. Felnett is apparently not such an organization, according to Polish government records.
Here’s Poland’s government database file on Felnett. Notice near the top, where it asks if the organization is an OPP?1 Nie is Polish for “no.” Research and educational organizations in Poland typically are organized as an OPP, while Felnett appears not to be.
The other interesting information in this public document is the fact that only two board members are listed — Sendler (using the name, “Damian Dariusz Markiewicz”) as chairman of the board and Mieczyslaw Gawel, as vice-president. Sendler provided additional board member names to me, but none of them are listed on this government document, nor could they be found to have any online footprint. He claims Gawel was a retired psychology professor — and he very well may be. But I couldn’t find a single research reference with this name in the psychology literature, which would be odd for a psychology professor (retired or not).
Felnett.org (according to public Whois information) is registered to Damian Sendler, and lists the same address for Felnett Health Research Foundation as he lists on his academic papers for the Foundation — a condo unit in Staten Island, New York. Most legitimate foundations that I’m familiar with and that boast a staff of a dozen or more people aren’t based out of somebody’s apartment.
In one of his email replies, Sendler stated to me that the foundation has three office locations in Poland. When asked in a follow-up email to supply the addresses of these offices (since they couldn’t be found online), he declined to do so. The only Polish address listed on file for Felnett is a private residence located in the small town of Nowa Dęba.
Felnett has apparently been operating in New York State since mid-2017, and to this day, Sendler’s website proudly proclaims that Felnett has offices in “New York and Warsaw.” Non-profit organizations operating out of New York State are required by law to register with the state. There is no record of this organization in New York, according to state records, either as a corporation or as a public charity.
I won’t go into his previous boasts about his professional memberships and awards. Many legitimate professionals overstate such awards and memberships as something special, when they rarely are. But this one is particularly amusing — he’s also apparently made up his own research grant, as noted by an Acknowledgement in one of his recently published studies:
“The source of funding for this research comes from the Young Investigatorship fund of the Felnett Health research fund.”
Why Does This Matter to Anyone?
Besides a bunch of journalists being unwittingly duped into writing salacious articles about people doing it with animals, what’s the harm of some random guy misrepresenting his professional credentials to the world?2 Not much, except when it comes down to clinical practice. And that’s where Sendler may have crossed a line.
Before the publication of the Gizmodo exposé, Sendler was apparently offering clinical, psychological consultations to anyone via his website.
“But Sendler told me he is actively seeing patients in New York. […] When I first started reporting this story, Sendler’s website offered online psychotherapy, online sex therapy, and relationship coaching. The site claimed: “Dr. Sendler specializes in the treatment of patients with psychological and psychiatric conditions, ranging from post-traumatic stress among military veterans, and extending all the way to complex forensic cases involving paraphilias.”
That’s concerning, given his lack of a U.S. license to practice any form of psychotherapy or psychological consultations.
His story changed when confronted with his lack of a license:
I then told Sendler that he was not licensed to practice mental health in New York, which is concerning since he had told me earlier in our conversation that he is actively seeing patients in New York. He then clarified: “I see them in terms of psychological consultations.” […] But New York law doesn’t permit anyone to call themselves a psychologist or refer to their services as “psychology” unless they are licensed or properly authorized.
In a final fact-checking phone conversation with Sendler—when he was more guarded than in our in-person interview—Sendler told me he’s never seen patients in New York.
In a January 24, 2019 interview with Krish Chopra of “Authority Magazine” (which has since been removed, but here’s the saved version of it (PDF)), Sendler said:
It helps to brag about your credentials if they are stellar. Moreover, it would help if you offered flexibility and innovation in healthcare treatments. For instance, I utilize e-therapy to work with frequent travelers and patients who live outside of New York but want to work with me.
While living in New York, Sendler’s claim clearly implies that he sees patients (or says he does) via e-therapy, contradicting his claims to me (and to Brown) that he doesn’t see patients for clinical consultations.
There’s also some concern about oversight of the research Sendler says he’s conducting. Because there’s apparently no actual verifiable staff at Felnett, that also means it’s quite possible it doesn’t have an actual IRB — an institutional review board for review of human subjects research. If Felnett indeed lacks a real IRB, it would suggest that Sendler’s research involving human subjects hasn’t been subjected to any type of objective ethical review. This may have violated the submission guidelines of journals regarding publication of research, not to mention professional ethics.
Not the First to Question Sendler
Gizmodo isn’t the only organization to question how Sendler has represented himself.
One of the schools he studied at while in Poland, the Medical University of Lublin, not-surprisingly objected to him using their name on his study, “Similar mechanisms of traumatic rectal injuries in patients who had anal sex with animals to those who were butt-fisted by human sexual partner”:
“The author regrets for having used affiliation of Medical University of Lublin (MUL) in Poland. Briefly before the study was published, the author advanced as principal investigator at Felnett Health Research Foundation in New York, making it difficult to recommend changes to affiliation on manuscript before the article became available online first on June 25, 2017. Therefore, the original publication contained contact information for MUL, leading to a dispute in which the author was asked to update the manuscript.”
Remember, Felnett Health Research Foundation seemingly exists only as a Sendler-created Polish organization to “house” his research. It wasn’t officially registered as an organization in Poland until May 2018. Sendler appears to have created the organization because he needed an affiliation to list for this and future studies, as he is currently unaffiliated with any university in the U.S. or Europe.
It appears that Felnett is not the only organization Sendler has created to prop up his public profile.
He also appears to have created “Taublum Media” (and all the staffers who work for it), so he could publish this since-removed interview with himself on Thrive Global.3 Taublum Media’s “Jay Longton” sat down with “Dr. Sendler” on January 23, 2019, to talk to him about being a “Rising Star in Medicine Charts His Path From School at Harvard to Becoming a Well-Funded Scientist, Clinician, and Media Health Expert Personality.”
Surprisingly for a media company, “Taublum Media” has no website and “Jay Longton” has no online footprint –- except for references on Sendler’s own website. These are two things unheard of for a legitimate public relations firm or media company. Apparently, Sendler really thought nobody would ever think to research these things on Google. But it’s a pattern you come across time and time again when researching anything to do with him.
In the interview, “Longton” writes,
“After graduating with degrees from Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and Harvard Medical School, Dr. Sendler became the founding head of one of the most successful sex therapy research clinics in the world. In day-to-day practice, Dr. Sendler manages a team of over two dozen scientists, assistants, and clinicians, spearheads over 25 funded research projects with 3000+ clinical participants, and sees patients in his Center for Sexual Medicine and Psychotherapy.”
This was written just over a month ago, in January 2019. And apparently he does all of this from his condo in Staten Island, New York.
After the incriminating Gizmodo interview was published, Sendler immediately disabled all the content on his website.
In his first rebuttal, which he posted to his website (since removed but saved here), he wrote:
As we all know, there have been numerous cases of reporters attacking scientists for their work. Since this reporter does not understand science, he’s inventing a character of danger impersonated in me. I am worried that his vicious attacks on me will result in physical harm. I informed him about my concerns but he ignored it.
For personal safety, parts of this website will be temporarily disabled. I will continue to pursue research and will not be intimated by these attacks. I recognize that carchy [sic] media titles, just like the content of my research, quickly become viral, but ultimately the quality of my research will defend itself.
It seems odd — and quite the overreaction — that a person would feel the need to suddenly hide his entire life’s work just because one reporter had some questions about it.
Sendler posted an updated statement on his website on March 3, 2019. The new statement focuses on his research and research subjects, rather than his self-proclaimed academic credentials.4
I haven’t spent much time on his actual research or its quality. I think that would be appropriate for an entirely separate article, as some of it appears acceptable (especially the work done with colleagues). But in reading more than a dozen of his published papers and posters, there were some studies that raised red flags.5
I’ve spent many hours reviewing Sendler’s background and education for this article. One Polish university refused to release information regarding him without a signed release — something Sendler declined to do. I’ve had a few email exchanges with him over the course of the past week. He provided one lengthy and detailed reply, and copies of multiple documents. But little in his responses had to do with the primary question of his educational credentials — the focus of most of my questions. Instead, he mostly defended his science, his research practices, whether he was publicity-seeking or not, and who contacted whom first.6
In one of his last replies to me, he wrote,
…[W]hatever damage has been done to my reputation, it will not be fixed at this moment, no matter what I say or do. I’ll not reach the moment of catharsis until after some time passes by and I can again reflect on what has happened. For now, people will have their opinions.
Sendler is apparently working overtime to clean up his online profile, and any mention of education at Harvard and other institutions where he didn’t actually attend or graduate. For instance, up until the publication of the Gizmodo article, his Thrive Global profile included the line, “Educated at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences;” his ResearchGate profile similarly listed his education at Harvard Medical School.
Mentions of Harvard have now been removed.
At the top of one of his replies, he did express regret if anyone felt hurt by his research — but quickly noted nobody has ever been hurt by his research or his “embellishment” of his CV:
“I apologize if anyone felt hurt, even though I know that no one has ever been negatively affected by my research. There’s not a single complaint ever recorded by a research subject or anyone really. Therefore, I don’t regret my scientific activity. I entered this field of research knowing that it is a magnet for controversy.”
Damian Jacob Markiewicz Sendler is now more famous than he probably ever could have hoped to be. But perhaps not for the reasons he desired.
After publishing this article on March 14, 2019, we received an anonymous email that read in part (3/26/2019):
We have been schoolmates of Damian Sendler at the Medical University of Lublin in Lublin, Poland — a fantastic institution, by the way, that we hope this one student does not reflect negatively on our school. The articles published have taken the whole student body for otter shock and disbelief that our fellow classmate has done this.
We would like to begin by saying that this student is still a student he is only a year 3/4 medical student who has not even graduated medical school yet. He has no PhD or MD from any institution neither from Poland nor the US. He is simply a student who is supposed to graduate the Medical University of Lublin in 2020.
What really upset most students is that after everything that was published about him he still continued to pose as a publishing scientist on his “research” while in reality he has only finished the basic sciences portion of medical school (the first 2 years). Medical University of Lublin has a joint American Program, which is why Damian was in Poland for 2 years. The school has a great program where American students do 2 years abroad in Poland and then continue the next 2 years in either Chicago, Louisiana or New York for their clinical rotations and then they graduate with an MD degree from the Medical University of Lublin.
Damian has finished the first 2 year school portion of Poland in May 2017 and, since then, most students have lost connection with him. [B]ecause in order to continue the program in Chicago, Louisiana or New York, you must pass your first medical board exam (USMLE Step 1) to even step foot inside a US hospital for your clinical rotations.
We are guessing that is what he has been up to; studying for the USMLE Step 1 which he probably was having a hard time passing hence why he then fabricating a whole alter ego. […] As well as we are not sure if in addition to the Medical University of Lublin if he started a PhD program else where which he could have done only after May 2017 because the first 2 years of medical school are very rigorous and he would not have much time to balance 2 Universities that are 300km away from each other.
Sendler’s website has been stripped of all information now (including his association with his self-created organization, Felnett), but his ResearchGate profile continues to claim he has a doctorate of science degree.
Update April 2020
After a year of silence, Damian Jacob Sendler is back! Here’s one way into his new online presence (which includes mutliple websites, all interlinked to try and create the impression of a large online presence). Notably absent is any claim to be an MD or PhD professional. Now he’s just a generic “scientist” or “researcher.” According to a paper he published in 2019 in an open-access journal (anyone can publish in it for $690), he’s still affiliated with the apparently self-created “Felnett Health Research Foundation,” which still lists his condo in Staten Island as its address. He also convinced a medical assistant at the Hudson Foot & Ankle Center named Dayra Pardo to be a co-author on the paper. The paper also lists the “Pace University Undergraduate Nursing Program” as an affiliation for both individuals.
The “Felnett Health Research Foundation” continues its apparent New York-based operations, despite remaining unregistered in New York state to conduct any kind of business (charitable or otherwise). There are no records of this organization existing anywhere in the U.S., except in Damian Jacob Sendler’s academic papers. The IRS has never heard of the organization. Yet this ghost organization continues to grant ethical approval for the “research” Sendler is publishing (“This study received institutional approval of the ethics committee.”). No journal reviewer or editor apparently has Googled Sendler’s name and demanded proof of an actual IRB that consists of anyone other than Sendler or his friend (or mom) from Poland.
Also, concerns expressed by other academics concerning some of his previously-published academic papers have gone unanswered.
Not surprisingly, Sendler’s new websites make no mention of his previous academic credentials claiming affiliation with both Harvard Medical School and Harvard University.