If you have lived to be fifty, and don’t mind going down the memory lane, even if briefly, you would readily agree that a striking change has overtaken the medical profession. The charisma, the goodness, the nobility that once defined this hallowed profession, and its amour-propre, has taken a full-blown punch on its nose.
While news of marauding public beating up doctors, cine makers and media anchors painting them black, the executive and judiciary turning to legal activism, and enacting and enforcing drastic healthcare laws — all might seem terribly over reactionary, sufficient to belittle and poison our morale, the unenviable present day truth is, medical practice has lost much of its glory and sheen.
Be it the standalone family physician, specialist or subspecialist, be it medical institutions in public or corporate space, all equally feel they have lost much of their goodwill, authority, and political hold within the social order. Perhaps, the rot relates to many quarters.
While some public hard voices may be figments of cynical, overwrought, negative minds that speak, write, and repetitively propagate derogatory, belittling emotions about physicians — or, for that matter, any vocation — for public consumption in order to raise their commercial target rating points, other invectives, on the other hand, are perhaps most authentic.
Many amongst us may vent their spleens that such a change cuts across professions, and being a part and parcel of the social order, how can physicians be expected to stand and shine and be counted in isolation!
Others may argue, and proudly: What if we don’t abide by the Hippocratic virtues, we still slave and toil for the patient. We work long hard years to acquire knowledge, competence, and skills… we stand on duty 24×7… we compromise our personal life… we stay at the beck and call of people who might yet grab our throats… we still pray for patients and find pride and satisfaction when patients do well… what more nobility, dignity and integrity you seek of us? Why such high bars of expectation and what for these pressures, why only must doctors live up to the old standards, why must they be compelled to offer free or low-cost care, in a world where those who sell food, clothes and home turn a nelson’s eye and look the other way while people still die of hunger, lack of clothes and shelter! Why doesn’t the executive and judiciary, the pillars of fairness and equality, take cognizance and enact tough laws to check such wanton waste of human lives? Why must the axe fall on those, who in any case, are struck with the so-called “nobility” of the profession?
Needless to say, the arguments are all robust. Yet, these cannot be an alibi, just as two wrongs never make a right. Live we might in a market-driven ecosystem, the very spirit of the profession must not allow us to turn into mercenaries, or agents of deceit and defrauds, traders of merchandise that may not benefit a man, leave alone harm them.
We must stand guard, never let our intellect and wisdom fail, that we do not fall a prey to the others’ designs, be it the insatiability of individual fiefdoms that masquerade as scientific societies, or the greed of certain evil players in the medical industry, pharmaceuticals, and other related realms.
Find yourself a mirror, conduct an honest soul-searching, and you might agree, the present tribe of physicians has lost or surrendered much of the high ground of its own doing. The stout character, blessed with a special set of values, morals, and qualities, which once defined the profession’s nobility and saintliness, has suffered severely if not mortally.
The disquiet of the narrative has many parts. Money, power, influence and publicity do not necessarily yield happiness, yet many amongst us trade our souls for them thinking of them as the biggest riches.
Increasingly, we are becoming a community, intent on our own narrow selfish interests, our individual rights and our individual success, without recognizing the simple truth that this so-called “success”, the growth in technology and biomedical advances, has brought more problems than it has solved. How much of it has truly benefitted human life? How much of it has translated into a true reduction in morbidity and mortality? And, how much of it is guided by truth, not counting the inequalities it has brought to the fore in the social order? The loss of credence may have much to do with it.
Even as we draw to a close, and wish that we all be blessed with integrity, goodness, humane values, and pragmatism, and that we learn to treasure the job and its spirit, the famed verse of the 18th century Scottish poet, Robert Burns, burns a deep hole down our hearts:
And would some Power give us the gift
To see ourselves as others see us!
It would from many a blunder free us,
And foolish notion:
What airs in dress and gait would leave us,
And even devotion!
1. Robert Burns. To A Louse, On Seeing One on a Lady’s Bonnet at Church, 1786
Dr Yatish Agarwal is a professor of radiology at Safdarjung Hospital and Vardhman Mahavir Medical College, New Delhi and editor-in-chief of Astrocyte. Dr Bipin Batra is executive director of the National Board of Examinations (NBE) and executive editor of Astrocyte.
This article first appeared in Astrocyte.