One of the many reasons I’m proud to be American is that we truly identify as being American. We aren’t Illinoisans or Californians. Our pride comes from being part of this nation. Why is it different in our careers?
As I watch the coronavirus multiply, both in number and as fear in people, I also watch it unravel the divide among physicians. Instead of bonding together, physicians are spending time and energy devaluing their colleagues. I have seen many physicians look down on other physicians that have asked for safety (for themselves, for their families, for other patients), sometimes finances, for respect, and even for fairness. Yes, we took an oath, and we should stand by that oath. Being a physician is a privilege, and I intend to treat it as such. However, “do no harm” applies as much to do no harm to others as it does to do no harm to ourselves. The overwillingness to be available has led to being exploited and has reduced us to being told to “use bandanas” in the face of crisis by our own CDC.
Where there is a divide, others will win. Many news sources have already spent years mostly bringing physicians down and highlighting publicly the errors that glimpse physicians to be human. Yes, we should strive to be better and make sure we and our colleagues are absolutely respect-worthy. No, we shouldn’t expect every physician to fulfill a God-like persona we’ve created in our own heads.
It’s time for physicians to unite, not tear each other down. I’d like to request that as a physician, you stop calling out your colleagues because you think you’re more humble, more giving, more important or more altruistic. This is a fundamental divide that has long caused physicians to self-harm as a group. If you want to give physicians a voice, to earn physicians respect, and to demonstrate the value of our degrees and training, then work together to uplift one another rather than focusing on what you think makes you better or what you think physicians are “supposed to be like.” Burnout is very high. This was true even before this all started, so throwing around rhetoric about “remembering your calling” only disempowers and shames your teammates.
Physicians are a group of people who are designed to help by virtue of who we are, and are trying to survive with dignity. If we keep looking for examples of the physicians who are doing things “wrong,” we’ll find those, but we’ll also be disgracing the degrees we’ve all worked very hard for, while bathing in the ego push we get when we tell ourselves we’re more altruistic than them. If we look for what our physician colleagues are doing right, of which we can find plenty of examples, maybe we can actually honor our profession and move forward in a way that’s cohesive.
Let’s stop tearing down our physician colleagues.
Let’s make the U.S. proud by standing together.
Anila Bindal is an endocrinologist.
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