When I hit the publish button for my recent blogpost, nothing would have prepared me for what was coming. I would have gladly accepted the usual 400 views with a few dozen comments. 72 hours and 2 lakh views later, I found myself the centre of discussion on over a dozen news media outlets, both national and international.
In a country with a population of over 1.2 billion, having a doctor to patient ratio of 0.7 (as compared to United Kingdom’s 2.8) means that we are always going to be swamped with patients beyond a logical human capacity. When only 1% of the country’s GDP is allocated for public healthcare, it further cripples efforts to help those who need us the most. 100 hour a week work shifts, working with a lack of essential medicines or surgical instruments, and woefully disproportionate salaries are considered part of being in “the noble profession” here, but it stops being about selfless service when the issue of violence against doctors comes into the picture.
The recent admission by the Indian Medical Association that 75% of doctors in India encounter violence from their patients was not even considered shocking within the fraternity. We have woken up to news snippets of elderly doctors being thrashed for conveying bad news, young women molested and threatened with rape for following triage and for following the law.
I am grateful that doctors looked beyond the “tabloid-y” headline (“Why I will never allow my child to become a doctor in India”) that the media—and perhaps, I too—led with and read the entire article. If my post was derogatory, they would have lambasted me on the site and stopped there. They would not have shared it as widely as they did, getting the attention of the media and eventually the world. They did not share it because it insulted them, they shared it because it resonated with them. They saw themselves and their loved ones in that post. They saw glimpses of their past and possibilities of their future. And they wanted the world to see it too.
Even in disagreeing with me, people actually ended up unwittingly proving my point. I kept finding variations of the same sentence “Yes, things have gotten worse and we need to change the way it is all going BUT… ”
Well, here’s my question. If you knew that the system had gotten worse, why did none of you open up and speak about it?
Is that how we treat patients? We take histories and blood samples, look through the microscopes, identify the causative bacteria and… nothing? We don’t treat the illness? We just sit there watching the patient die a slow agonizing death? That is not what being a healer was all about, as far as I recall.
This is not a topic that can be easily wished away. 76.7% of Chinese doctors do not want their children to follow their profession for the very same reasons I stated. If doctors from the two biggest populations on the planet are suffering the same level of disillusionment, it needs to be reviewed urgently. Now is not the time to silence voices asking to treat a wound gone septic.
I am just the little boy who pointed out that the emperor has no clothes.
My commitment to healing people is what made me speak. And India responded. The numbers in agreement far outweighed the voices of resentment. So many confirmed that their parents who were doctors actively discouraged them from entering the field. So many young doctors openly stated on the site and on social media that they too would never let their kids become doctors. All this has taken years before I wrote this article. Instead of taking an “ostrich in the sand” stand and insulting the parents, listen to why they say so and think of how we can fix it rather than just taking affront with a single word or headline.
Doctors are asking for help to change the medical system so that we can do what we were supposed to do—heal people without any violence, fear, or disillusionment. And yes, we have to acknowledge that we too have to right wrongs made by fellow doctors.
I know there are no easy solutions available but we have to try because the system that is failing and needs our care today is not cardiac or respiratory anymore but the very healthcare system that made us all. Acknowledging it was the first step and unwittingly, I got us all talking. Now it is time for the rest of the medical community to come forward and have their say. We work best when we work as a team. Let us correct a fracture that has been broken for far too long—the relationship between doctors and patients.
Roshan Radhakrishnan is a consultant anaesthesiologist working in Kerala in India. He also blogs at Godyears.net, which in 2014 was chosen as the best blog in India for creative writing at the country’s first blog conference and awards ceremony.
Competing interests: None declared.