Catch-22 for young doctors, resolved

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The ethical debate over the ongoing strike by young doctors had trapped the young professionals in a Catch-22 situation: damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

On the one hand, the doctors’ demands for higher pay are perfectly legitimate, and their argument that Pakistan is facing a brain drain as doctors go abroad due to appalling salary/work conditions at home cannot be discounted.

On the other hand, we have a seething population, who have been galvanised by the media tocondemn the doctors for ignoring the Hippocratic Oath to practice medicine ethically — case in point being the decision to abandon patients in emergency wards across the country.

Given the media’s general ignorance of the doctors’ demands and their extended strike (now culminating in an amicable solution with the government) the key focus of the protest, and its coverage, had become the ‘human interest’ angle, with stories of abandoned, desperate patients seeking help and a mounting death toll.

While no one questions that doctors abandoning emergency wards was a disgrace in this protest, one must be a little critical and wary of the death toll which was tagged to the issue, as there was no real follow-up or easy way to determine whether these deaths were directly linked to the absence of young doctors.

These professionals spend years training towards a thankless career which brings with it little reward, monetary or otherwise, quite contrary to the prevailing perception that doctors are all successful and land fantastic jobs.

We should look beyond these myths perpetuated in society and address the very real issues the doctors are facing, without resorting to a needless blame game.

The government was at fault for letting these issues reach the crisis that they have become, while the young doctors were being driven to follow a path which could not be allowed to be pursued any longer. The Punjab government’s decision to replace the positions left vacant by the doctors would have just served to enrage and alienate this growing group of protestors, so it is, for once, heartening to hear that the government has decided to step up and form a committee to address the doctors’ issue.

Compromise and recognition of the plight of a group of individuals was the only way forward, and it is to be hoped that other groups will learn from this episode and persevere in making their voice heard. Perhaps most importantly, future groups pursuing protests will also learn not to alienate the public and the media by pursuing extreme measures which can put peoples lives in danger.

Published in Tribune Blogs.

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