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Opinion: Indian media needs to stop demonising doctors, urgently!

The truth is that doctors today are the most frail bunch of professionals: a relative that is nowhere to be found when their patient needs their blood suddenly finds it to be their moral responsibility to inflict punishment on the doctor, when things go askew.

I happened to catch the episode of a popular Bengali soap ‘Aamar Durga’ that was aired on Zee Bangla on August 1st, 2016, and was greatly dismayed by a rather unfortunate segment that found place in it. It’s a sequence in which ‘Durga’, the female protagonist, rushes into a government hospital with a child who had burnt his hand while playing with crackers. As she requests an admission, the nursing staff is shown to refuse admission on account of the unavailability of beds in the hospital. What then follows is a vehement protest (designed carefully to hit smack at the sentiments of the viewers) by the protagonist, which raises an alarm in the mind of the superintendent – who, as has been shown, is forced to break out of his corrupt character and accept the patient.

Dr Soham D Bhaduri
Dr Soham D Bhaduri

Amidst all this, there were three things that were crystal clear to me:

1. The production crew had absolutely no touch with the actual picture out there and didn’t care about gaining it either, before filming the sequence.
2. There was a prominent intent to make appear the reason of ‘unavailability of beds’ as a pretext used by government hospitals to shed workload and to portray the doctor as a depraved character without a heart.
3. The prejudice against doctors which once occupied the minds of the big, nationwide media houses has now overrun into our regional soap operas.

Anyone who has a minimum touch with Indian healthcare would know about the escalating number of cases of violence against doctors in India. I mean the frequency with which I catch the news of a resident doctor in a government hospital being beaten up by a patient’s cronies has shot through the roof. I’m not someone who believes in covering up the blemishes in his clan and I do understand that there are and always have been such doctors as can be labelled depraved and vile. This is what possibly fuels violence during normalcy. But the steady rise in such cases, day by day, will suggest convincingly to the perspicacious individual that something is kindling an inordinate amount of hostility towards doctors today. Many of my colleagues and seniors across the nation are busy brainstorming and scouring for mistakes within themselves, which they believe is a major contributor to all of this. Be that as it may, a callous attitude of the media, their prejudice against the medical fraternity, and their major role in degrading the image of this profession are things any sensible mind would be able to perceive.

Now, tell me what does it implicate when, in one part of a sequence, you show a doctor denying admission to a patient due to unavailability of beds and in the very next one, a few petty threats making him cancel his decision? Does the doctor deny treatment just because it’s fun? Or because he wants to escape his job that he toils for over ten years just to be eligible for? Why, then, is nearly every resident doctor in a government hospital working over 100-hour-work-weeks, often without weekends and with a miserable pay? Is it that doctors enjoy impunity from the consequences of their deeds? Why, then, does the number of assaults on doctors exceeds that on any other professional? Why do we have one of the highest rates of suicides? Why do the grievances of the medical fraternity not receive any reassurance whatsoever from the government?

There are bad folks just as much there are good ones, and stereotyping is frowned upon. But what the serial here seems to be doing is stereotype and bracket all doctors as snobbish, heartless and villainous professionals. The truth is that doctors today are the most frail bunch of professionals: a relative that is nowhere to be found when their patient needs their blood suddenly finds it to be their moral responsibility to inflict punishment on the doctor, when things go askew. Corporate powers domineer doctors in private institutions and saddle them with morally obnoxious responsibilities. The government needs votes and would never venture to go against predominant public sentiments, let alone admit its failings in affirming patient care in the country. These issues are hardly ever covered by any media house or soap opera.

We’re into the 21st century and I believe it’s futile to call upon the media to act in line with its moral responsibility. It’s completely understandable that they’re going to continue making their TRPs even if it takes them to blast the ones who save their very lives. What I want to say is that they’re on their way to incite a calamity in the society that won’t leave them untouched either.

The media, and especially such soap operas, have a tremendous influence on their viewers. Many of such viewers would not even care about confirming the veracity of what they show and will fling into the beliefs and things they promulgate. Nobody knows how many naïve minds have already been tainted by that single episode of the programme. If this continues, we’ll arrive at a day when no bright student will opt to be a doctor.

Patient care is a shared responsibility, and the doctor isn’t always the one responsible for your problems with the government hospital, no matter how soft a target they may seem. While you may be victimizing your doctor for the untimely death of your beloved, the root-cause of your problem might very possibly be in the government, the democracy, or the mother-nature herself.

Dr Soham D Bhaduri is a medical graduate and a philosophy of mind enthusiast, and takes keen interest in writing on healthcare and medical education. He blogs at The Free Thinking Medic.

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