Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Why aren't doctors willing to lead ?

stamp series, men of the history of Berlin I, ...Most doctors stay an arm's length away from politics. Like most intellectuals, we feel politics is a "dirty business' - something we are far too busy or important to waste time over. Sadly, most doctors don't even bother to vote because they feel it's a waste of their time - after all, aren't all politicians crooked anyway, so what difference does it make which crook is in power ?

Most doctors are quite happy to criticise and complain about our leaders - but then, in a democracy , don't we all get what we deserve ?

Doctors are supposed to be enlightened and intelligent citizens. We are independent thinkers; have a mind of our own - and it's hard to fool us. However, we waste a lot of time in petty internal medical politics ( such as squabbling over who's going to become the President of the Medical Society; or the next Head of Department). Even worse, when we need a "favour", we are quite happy to wait for hours on end outside the politician's office !

Why don't doctors participate more actively in politics ? After all, aren't we hard working and smart enough to become good leaders ?

It's good to see that times are changing and that doctors are more willing to assert themselves. Doctors are now doing an MBA and becoming leaders in hospital hierarchies; while others are entering the IAS to improve civil administration.

However, it's hard work to become a leader of people ; and most doctors have devoted so much of their life to pursuing professional excellence, that they rarely have the energy to enter mainstream politics.

This is a shame. We have some excellent role models we can emulate - and Dr B C Roy and Dr Jivraj Mehta were shining examples of what Indian doctors can do when they decide to enter public service.

Health is an area which affects all of us - and as doctors, we have a responsibility and duty to make sure India remains a nation of healthy citizens ! We need to take a more proactive role in improving public health services. If we do not do this, not only are we failing in our duty as good citizens, we are also allowing ourselves to become easy targets for critics who paint doctors as being greedy and money-hungry . We need to develop political clout so we can stand up for ourselves !

Do busy doctors have the time to do this ? I think doctors underestimate their sphere of influence. Patients respect and trust their doctor - and doctors can easily start to play a more active role by influencing our patients. We need to get our patients to speak up and speak out !

If we do not do this, we will become sidelined by powerful forces, until the entire medical professional will become debased. The image of doctors has already become tarnished - and it is our passivity which has allowed this to happen. We need to take responsibility for our own fate !

The trouble is that doctors are so busy fighting with each other, that they simply cannot unite and come together ! Individually we are clever, but collectively, we are extremely powerless. What does this say about us ?

It was Dr Rudolf Virchow who said over 100 years ago that "Medicine is a social science, and politics is nothing but medicine on a large scale. Physicians are the natural attorneys of the poor, and the social problems should largely be solved by them. Medicine, as a social science, as the science of human beings, has the obligation to point out problems and to attempt their theoretical solution: the politician, the practical anthropologist, must find the means for their actual solution."

Doctors need to work together with politicians - and actually become politicians, if we need to fix our sick healthcare system . If we do not do this, who will ?

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