Friday 27 July 2012

Diary of a Young Doctor(part 5)

(published in The Friday Times on 27th July, 2012)

"I am really thankful to you doctor sahiba, you saved my daughters' life today," said the mother of a young woman to one of my female colleagues.

The very next day, another attendant had this to say,

You doctors are murderers. You don't know how it feels when your loved ones die. You have killed our young brother. We will never forgive you."
Both of the above-mentioned statements reflect a common misconception in our society, that doctors are supposed to be messiahs who save lives. I may have to face the wrath of some of my fellow professionals for saying it out loud, but this can't be farther from the truth. During the five years of medical school, followed by countless years of medical training, all we learn are a set number of protocols to follow. There is no subject or even a chapter dedicated in any of our books on 'How to Save a Life' (excuse me for the reference to a song with the same name by the band The Fray). The main problem with this assumption is the immense responsibility it places on the shoulders of the attending physician/surgeon. Doctors, in general, safeguard the best interests of their patients but having the mantle of 'saviour' placed on their shoulders is more than a little unfair.
As a result of the 'messiah' label, doctors become the automatic fall guys when a tragedy occurs. Doctors are obliged to do their best, regardless of the expected results, and when their efforts fail, the first impulse of the attendants is to blame the doctor for the demise of their loved one. I am not saying that medical science is guesswork; but why is the medical profession considered a "calling from God"? It is high time we learned to differentiate between a profession and a calling from God. Doctors are "working" in hospitals. They aren't on a divine mission to save everyone who comes their way. They provide a service and in return expect to get paid for it. (And we know how that's gone done in our country.)
When doctors announced a strike to demand for a better service structure, the widespread reaction was that doctors should be philanthropists who put others before themselves and don't ask for a compensation package in return for the time they have invested.
To quote the columnist Ayaz Amir: "The young doctors' strike was not about doctors versus ailing and suffering humanity. In the Islamic Republic suffering humanity is a handy cliche, readily invoked to score a political point and as readily consigned to the upper layers of forgotten memory when the need passes. If anything, this strike was doctors versus a hidebound bureaucracy, one of the most ossified bureaucracies in the lands which can claim descent from the British Raj."

During the strike by doctors, one of the major objections was that doctors were supposed to provide health services in any condition, as they have taken an oath to do so. Let me make it absolutely clear that in the original Hippocratic Oath that was formulated around the year 425 BC, there is no provision that makes it mandatory for a doctor to provide health services to anyone who wants them. In the revised Hippocratic Oath, constituted by the British Medical Association, one of the points declares: "I will do my best to help anyone in medical need, in emergencies. I will make every effort to ensure the rights of all patients are respected."
Similarly, according to PM&DC (Pakistan Medical and Dental Council) Ordinance of 16th July 2011, Section 9, Sub-Section 2 (a) : "A medical or dental practitioner shall be free to choose whom to serve, with whom to associate and lay the timings and place of professional services to be provided."

While Sub Section 2(b) reads: "A medical or dental practitioner shall not be bound to treat each and every person asking his/her services."
In my opinion, one of the underlying causes of outrage against doctors during the strikes was the "messiah" proposition. How can someone who is supposed to "save lives" go on strike? As a nation, we are prone to miracles and magical rescues; we are always hoping for some messiah to come and save us from the "mess" we are in. This messiah complex has in the past led to acquiescence to dictators and demagogues. We, as a nation, need to mature and start believing in processes and institutions, not saviours. Bottom Line: Doctors are not messiahs; they are ordinary professionals doing the best that they can.

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