Doctors need to take ownership of the medical profession

by Matthew DiPaola, MD

When the country was first founded, about 10 percent of national representatives cited medicine as their profession. Since 1960, only 1 percent of Congress has been made up by physicians. Historical differences in training duration aside, those numbers alone should tell you who is driving the Washington version of reform. It ain’t doctors.

In medical school, we were fortunate enough to have a pretty extensive public health block. It really opened you up to the systems nature of the field. I remember one day a policy-type guy came into the class and he got into some of the politics of medicine. It’s a subject that is not talked about that often: we’re too busy learning about knock-out mouse models and Perkinje cells most days. I hardly remember what the speaker said that day, but I do remember being very bothered by one of my classmate’s comments. She said something to the effect of, “I feel like I am not qualified to even talk about those issues [health policy].”

As if to say that since she didn’t have an advanced degree in government, she couldn’t speak on it.

This really bothered me. There are many people who don’t have a tenth of the education that my classmate had, and with zero connection to the field, who are willing to take ownership of it. Her comment felt like a capitulation. “If not you, then who? You are the profession!” I wanted to say. Don’t get me wrong, she was a fantastic student and, I’m sure, a fantastic physician today.

But I think medical education socializes us sometimes to defer only to the super-specialist – to believe that we are not qualified to speak on something unless we have a string of eight years of A-pluses under our belts on the matter. Hopefully the internet will change that to a degree. It has given a voice to a lot of MD’s out there who are not politicians.

Doctors, it’s time to take ownership of your profession. Before someone who cares much less about it than you does.

Matthew DiPaola is an orthopedic surgeon who blogs at Matthew DiPaola MD.

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