A physician’s worth doesn’t need a professional hierarchy

by Ruben J. Rucoba, MD

Has it come to this?  Do we really need, as a profession, to measure ourselves against others like a bunch of schoolboys?  After reading Dr. Son’s article, “Does being a lawyer or journalist stack up with being a physician?”, I feel compelled to reply.

As a practicing pediatrician, I, too, feel the nobility and privilege of my profession, and count myself lucky every day that I am able to do what I do.  But to denigrate lawyers and journalists as somehow less valuable to society is beneath us as a profession.

What of those journalists who help expose quackery in the medical field?  The Chicago Tribune has been running a series of articles recently exposing the dangers of chelation and other unproved methods of autism “treatment.”  The FDA ruled this week that such treatments are dangerous and illegal.

Even if you don’t believe that public exposure by the Tribune and other news organizations helped put the FDA’s feet to the fire, at the very least you have to admit that their reporting will cause doubts in the minds of parents considering such therapies.  Media exposure like that touches far more patients than I ever could.

In his article, Dr. Son takes issue with trial lawyers.  No complaint here.  But he does denounce the entire profession with this statement: “To claim the legal profession as more important than the practice of medicine borders on delusional.”

What of the healthy policy lawyers who helped craft the Medicare bill of 1965?  One may debate the merits of that first step toward national health insurance, but the health benefits to millions of elderly (and an ongoing source of revenue to providers of adult care) cannot be counted as unimportant.

Are the works of these journalists and lawyers so much more invaluable than the routine diagnosis of croup I made last week?  I doubt it.

Furthermore, the medical profession’s high regard for itself has not translated into action on the health care reform front.  Instead of arguing who is more important, physicians or lawyers or journalists, we should be leading the way on health care issues in this country.  Instead, we physicians on the front lines are often the pawns, being moved around by the insurance companies, the government, and large hospitals.

I know I’m valuable as a physician.  I see it in the faces of parents every day.  And it’s not always in the expert diagnosis I make or the quick treatment of a sick child.  Sometimes it’s in the simple caring at the end of chronically ill child’s life.  In moments like these, I know my value.  I don’t need to construct a professional hierarchy to prove it.

Ruben J. Rucoba is a pediatrician.

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