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Should Doctors go on strike?

On » Thursday, February 24, 2011 //

My younger brother called up today evening to let me know that he was participating in a debate in his medical school. The topic was "Should doctors be allowed to go on strike?" I asked him whether he was talking from the pro or the against side? Being in the first year of medical school, not yet exposed to the clinical environment and the set-up, it was understandable when he said that he was going to talk from the 'no-strike' point of view. So that tempted me to open my lappie and post about the topic here.

(Courtesy: Internet)
Every month or so, people in India are used to reading the 'Breaking News' that says - "Doctors in so-and-so state have called for an indefinite strike." I believe, 'strike' is a legitimate form to protest in a democracy like India. But with the principle behind medicine rests in alleviation of suffering, the issue about doctors using that form of protest is slightly questionable. But I feel even before asking the question as to 'Should Doctors go on strike', the first question should be, 'What are the reasons behind these strikes?' And hence this question needs to be answered so that the media and indirectly the general public gets to know the real facts for the doctors to step against their Hippocratic Oath.

What leads to strike?
In India, the medical system is not an autonomous organisation. The government controls a major part of it. The medical community is too small as compared to the vast patient load that it has to face in the public as well as the private sector. In India a student has to undergo a total of five and a half years of continuous academic training that also includes the compulsory one year rotatory internship. Some states even have a bond to complete one more year of exclusive rural hospital training before assigning the graduation hat to the candidate. Once MBBS is over, the chap has to go through yet another rigorous phase of life for his/her post-graduation studies and then when he/she gets that seat after many attempts (which is usually the scenario), the real struggle starts.

The resident doctors are the core of any public hospital. They are the ones who are present 24/7 in the hospital campus. A HSC passed science student has many aspirations and a noble thought of selfless service to the community, when he clears the CET and steps into a medical school. Yes later as he matures, he does think about earning money, which I feel is completely justified. But unfortunately, the conditions in which the resident doctors work in, make them feel hopeless about their future and the spark of the noble cause gradually dwindles along the way. Despite being the crème of the society, when they feel that their grievances for even their basic needs are not heard, the only step that remains is to resort to strike so that their apathy is somehow brought to notice.

Media and the Doctors:
Unlike what is portrayed in the electronic media (which has become a real farce in today's society), Doctors do think a lot before going on strike. They are completely aware of the repercussions that may follow in form of canceling of their registration, delay in their completion of studies and needless to mention, their image in the society. Nevertheless, the trust between the doctor and patient is not as strong as it was a few decades ago. All that the lay man today cribs about the doctor is that they are money-minting machines! But no one gives a thought to the tough and an impatient journey which the doctors go through in their early life to be called one later. It is certainly not like Dr. Armaan and Dr. Riddhima who are shown to attend patients in between their romantic and fun filled lifestyle rather than what it should be, the other way round.

Today doctors are beaten up like dogs by hooligans, not to mention, right in front of the security. We doctors certainly don't expect people to worship us like God. All we want from them is to understand that the person behind that white coat is a human being, no different than them. I am not amongst those who completely blame the relatives for such outbursts. Somewhere the communication gap between the doctor and the patient is increasingly widening leading to such shameful incidents. Both the sides should equally give efforts to understand each others point.

These strikes have become a daily affair since last few years. During my undergraduate days, I had been a part of three major strikes over a period of 3 years, everytime the cause was a different one but the pattern used to be the same. After all the means of protest proved fruitless, a strike used to become inevitable, media would spice up the stories at their own will, after 7-10 days or so, the government would wake up and do bla-bla in front of the camera without giving any written assurances and finally the strike used to get called off just to be repeated after few months as the demands used to get thrown away of the window with some or the other excuses.

Why doctors strikes are often failures?
(Courtesy: The Hindu)
The problem for all these 'strikes' remaining unsuccessful lies in the fact that the resident doctors come and go every 3 years unlike the politicians which are glued to their seats for eternity. And this is also one of the many reasons that the media openly seems biased towards the government during such confrontations. Today's media is more like that small kid desperate for attention of his friends for all the silly and stupid reasons that he has. They will loop a clip of a patient being turned away from a hospital n number of times but will not bother to step into the pathetic hostel room of a resident doctor just a few blocks away.

Another big reason for resident doctors pushed away in the corner is the lack of unity and support by their own seniors, the lecturers and the professors. Instead of increasing the medical seats for both post-graduates and the professors, the government is still hell bent on increasing the age of retirement, thereby increasing the stagnating gap between the PGs and the teachers. This is serving absolutely no purpose for those lecturers who are waiting for more than 10 years to get promoted to a professors job.

The most important reason for strike now-a-days was the decrease in the number of post-graduates seats in the government hospitals as compared to the surprisingly increase in the same in the private medical colleges, especially in Maharashtra, where almost all of them have some or the other politician heading the university they are affliated to. Talk of the pathetic political will to implement a central common entrance on merit for all the medical seats which also would include the private ones.

So all these frustrating scenarios make a doctor shed his white coat and resort to a democratic way to show his protest to the tyrannical political way of working that has infested the medical education system in India. If doctors wouldnt have gone on strike, this minutely noticeable population would have deteriorated even further. This strikes don't happen only for increase in wages as the media always focuses on. There are lot many issues that the Resident doctors associations come up with, selflessly putting the welfare of the society ahead of everything. But still there is so much indifference and insensitivity that people show towards doctors. The media shows the doctors as evil since no one would like to see a channel that supports the doctors. The media industry just cashes in on the ongoing mood, which is usually a common man's hatred and disgust towards a doctor leaving his OPD and coming on to the roads and polishing shoes in front of cameras to show their pathetic state of living.

Despite this the question still remains debatable. As long as the root of this problem is not addressed with unbiased approach by the authorities, the media and the government, these strikes will continue, irrespective of the fact that a doctor never willingly thinks about hurting his patients by holding up his services temporarily...

(The recent strike going on by the Interns in Maharashtra can be followed here... 
ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING by fellow blogger Karan Choudhary)

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