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Doctors in despair! Where has the joy of medical practice gone?

Doctors have been fortunate to work in a job, which provide them the joy of healing. In ancient India, vaidyas were considered to be lucky, because their practice offered them the opportunity of fulfilling all the three aims of a good life – dharma (religious gain, by relieving the suffering of patients); artha ( material gain, by building up a rich practice); and karma ( personal satisfaction, by curing those whom he loves and respects, and by acquiring fame for his expertise). Modern doctors also can apply their mental abilities and their physical dexterity to successfully solve many of these problems; they have been accorded respect and status. A good doctor treats all his patients equally well – whether they come from slum or as foreign medical tourists. When a patient thanks a doctor for his work, or says that ‘you’ve become like a family member’, relish the intense emotional moment. Those moments are the real reward for being a doctor. Doctors have a chance to plumb the depths of the human soul, as they accompany their patients through their suffering. Their work lends itself to contemplation and introspection – allowing them insights which few other people are privileged to have. While it is true that daily exposure to misery and suffering can drain some doctors, causing compassion fatigue; and leave others hardened and unfeeling, these same experiences can also invigorate and rejuvenate them. Unfortunately, physicians who actually take a proper history and do a complete examination as medical students were taught  and one who actually goes over the patient’s previous papers to find associations or to rule out as useless. Healthy doctor-patient relationship nurtures both patient and doctor! But where has the joy of healing gone?

In the present day scenario doctors have lost the joy of healing and they as a class are being labeled as criminals, cheats, swindlers, Jallad and so on. Doctors are on media trial daily for botched up surgeries, financial frauds, seeking commissions/incentives from drug companies/labs, misconduct, and what not. Even a normal fee is labeled as loot. Even a normal prescription is interpreted as a ploy to earn from the chemist or laboratory! It is not uncommon to hear the whispers of the patients in the waiting rooms of public hospitals, saying that Dr. X prescribes outside medicines to get commission from the chemists and Dr. Y prescribes only those which are stored in the hospital dispensary, since he got a fat commission from the pharmaceutical companies. Any adverse outcome invites the wrath of family and civil society leading to assaults or burning of the property! Who will not feel ashamed of being a doctor in that situation? But the regret of being doctor may be lifelong! The pendulum of doctors has swung from being good-doers to devils.

Many doctors ask why they are not expected to earn money. Are they in social service or are they in business/ profession? In case they are in business/ profession, why does the society expect them to perform social service or toil day and night only to fulfill the Hippocratic Oath? While the Oath may be obligatory as a duty, what are the extra rights that the society confers in lieu of that? Why are doctors penalized in case a complication occurs while treating a patient with good care and in good faith, but no other professional is? Most doctors follow the ethical standards they are expected to follow. Some don’t! Why?  Is it the general influence of the society, which is rife with corruption? Court awarded phenomenal amount as compensation in a case of medical negligence related to wife of Dr. Kunal saha. Saha did suffer from medical negligence involving his wife. However, his actions of late have been vengeful and sans objectivity against doctors. He could not allege that medical negligence had criminal intent underlying.

Most medical councils require qualified doctors to undertake the Hippocratic Oath before being allowed to practice medicine. The oath burdens them with a social and ethical responsibility. Seeking monetary benefit is against the clause enshrined in the Hippocrates oath on maintaining conscience and dignity. The relevance of the Hippocratic Oath is now questionable. Why this burden of Hippocratic Oath, only on doctors! Does it convert them to bonded labour or relegate them to a class of slaves who have only duties and no rights?  Many doctors are increasingly toying with the idea of changing careers, while others are burning out helplessly, unable to find an escape.

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