It was about 2 am, one day, when a patient was brought to the casualty ward of the Civil Hospital in Solapur with a head injury. The surgical resident on duty was asked to escort the patient to get a CT scan done. While he was doing so, he was approached by a policeman who asked him to attend to a lady in labor. The resident tried to contact the gynecology department but on being unable to do so, gave the policeman the intercom number. He tried to return to his patient. At this juncture, the policeman beat him up and dragged him by his hair to the corridor. This event was captured on CCTV. What followed was a state-wide protest, by the Maharashtra Association of Resident Doctors, which culminated in the suspension of the policemen and the launch of a CID investigation into the matter. Happy ending?
A few days after this incident I overheard a conversation between some locals. The police were being victimized and how the doctor was obviously at fault. Doctors are obviously out just to rob people of their hard earned money. I am no one to judge anyone involved in the incident but what worries me is that such anti-doctor sentiments prevail all over the country even as I write this.
Were these sentiments developed because of this one dramatic event? No. It is the culmination of years of prejudice against the medical community. It is often remarked how “Doctors are only out to make money” or that “doctors are greedy serpents interested only in the bottom line” In fact, in today’s community simply saying that one aspires to be a doctor is considered synonymous with “I wish to earn bundles of money.” I would like to point out here that if profit was indeed the primary motivation for doctors, they would have to be astoundingly clueless as they keep taking steps guaranteed to reduce their profits!
Those who have already made up their minds that doctors are the devil can find plentiful evidence to support their beliefs: confirmation bias works really well to support preconceived beliefs. But the real test of a claim is not the presence of confirming evidence but that of disconfirming evidence. I do not disagree that there are a few bad apples in the medical barrel but they are vastly outnumbered by the honorable men and women who have dedicated their lives to serve the public.
The medical field is not a profession but a calling. The only ones who survive the years of rigorous education and toil are those who are motivated by a passion to serve the public and compassion for them. One must appreciate the fact that the doctor who is treating him/her has spent about 10 years of their life to be qualified enough to diagnose the affliction by a single look. Add this to the fact that most doctors in our country work for fixed wages. This implies that no matter how long, or what method he uses to treat a patient, he ultimately pockets the same amount of money every month. Even among private practitioners, one would be hard pressed to find a doctor who would perform a C-Section just because his kid needs a new set of braces. And even if he did do a large number of unnecessary tests or surgeries, he would only expose himself to malpractice lawsuits and rebuke from the rest of the medical fraternity.
Individual doctors may be trying to increase their income, but the medical profession as a whole is constantly doing things that tend to decrease provider income while improving patient outcomes. To quote the famous British politician, James Bryce, “Medicine is the only profession that labors incessantly to destroy the reason for its own existence.” Research by doctors and scientists over the years have made possible the development of various vaccines which prevent the occurrence of many previously deadly diseases. Doctors would surely make more money if they stopped vaccinating and could treat all those patients who would contract preventable diseases. Are these people so daft that they would release medicines that will effectively decrease their business? Or is it all being done ultimately for public welfare? The very institution we allege of working solely for money is doing all it can to reduce its business! Successful businessmen and entrepreneurs are no longer said to be motivated by money if they make gestures like donating to charities. But what about all the hours that the richest of doctors put into the betterment of society?
I believe that the primary reason a lot of us can’t empathize with doctors is due to their lack of social interactions. Most people find it difficult to hold a normal conversation with a doctor, a feeling which is often reciprocated by the doctor himself. This is only to be expected as doctors spend their college days more or less completely isolated from their colleagues pursuing other ambitions. One’s college days are influential in shaping one’s social skills. The majority of medical students spend this time in complete isolation from the outside world, influenced only by their peers and elders, buried in some of the thickest books known to mankind! Due to this, the public seems to forget that doctors are humans too. They do not ask to be treated as demigods or to be persecuted as devils. They only require to be treated as fellow human beings, as prone to love and joy, happiness and sorrow as any other of our species.
So why is it, then, that when fingers are pointed at doctors, no one raises their voice in protest? Why is it that we besmirch the name of everyone in the medical field for the faults of a few rotten apples? Can we call the entire police force corrupt for the actions of one policeman? Can we brand the entire political machinery to be a fraud for the behavior of one dishonest politician? Doctors, just like policemen and politicians, have a symbiotic relation with the public. If the public chooses to ostracize them, they must remember that without the former, the latter cannot survive either. These men and women are the pillars that hold modern society together, saving it from degrading into anarchy. It is, in fact, a shame that the need exists to pass laws for the protection of these essential servicemen.
The public should consider it their duty to take a stand against this smear campaign against doctors. As is evident, the accusation that doctors are motivated solely by money is demonstrably untrue. Most doctors are committed to doing what is in the best interests of the patient regardless of the effect on their income. As new evidence becomes available, they are constantly changing their practices to eliminate the unnecessary and the ineffective and it is high time that we as a people learn to respect this noble profession.
As Robert Owen wrote:
“God and the Doctor we alike adore
But only when in danger, not before;
The danger o’er, both are alike requited,
God is forgotten, and the Doctor slighted.”