After the pandemic, can we stop vilifying doctors?

So can we talk about something? Something that may be unpopular or seem callous at this time?

New York is the epicenter of this pandemic in our nation. They are now asking, nay pleading, for doctors to come help them. They’re drowning and do not have the staff to continue. Their own docs are overwhelmed but still going in battle mode. Their hotels are offering rooms to those who don’t want to go home and infect their families. Heck, it’s the Four Seasons too!

“They” want us doctors to take our incredible hearts, our solid work ethic, and our expansive and sound knowledge base to go help in the sickest part of America. They want us to go into the heart of the war zone. They want us to fight this enemy that may vanquish, not just us, but those we love through us. We have been fighting our own skirmishes where we are with the major battles yet to come. But we are desperately needed there as well.

Guess what? We will answer that call. I know we will. I know there will be doctors that will gear up, put on their armor, and go. Many of us will do it because we have always done it. Many of us will do it because we would want someone to step up for our families. Many of us will do it because we swore an oath. We will all do it because it is who we are and what we do. It is at the core of us.

“They” have taken advantage of this for decades now. For fear of losing our job, for fear of being unable to help, we have accepted the degradation of our perceived worth. Our public image has suffered. We have been vilified in many ways. Over and over. While we were busy training, then taking care of patients, we have developed a PR problem. One that is not of our making. We have been mired in red tape when all we wish to do is care for our patients and do the best we are able for them. We have been blamed for that. We have suffered these and many other insults. And yet, we have continued to do what we do.

And now, during a time of war, they continue to do this. Make no mistake, we are at war with this enemy, and these doctors are our army. Doctors have been cut from the stimulus bill. We have no mandated healthcare or job security if (really when given what we know of this enemy) we get sick. They want us to put our patients above our families again and again. They want us to do so while denying us the same relief they are offering these same patients. They are once again showing us how little they value us while we are deployed to the front lines.

Guess what? We will still do it. Whatever our personal reasons, we will do it because we always have.

When this is over, though — when this enemy has ravaged through our people and changed the landscape of our country — can we talk about something? Can we change how we see these doctors? Can we change how we treat them? Can we stop vilifying them? Can we not forget what the doctors have given and done? Can we not go back to business as usual? Please.

Even better, can we change that now and put our money where our mouth is? Can we show we value our doctors? Can we compel those in power to provide that value? Can we have that because that is what we, as a people, have always done?

Sheel Todd is an anesthesiologist.

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