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Respect for Doctors?

By Anjuli M. Sharma | New Voices
Posted November 20, 2004
Orlando Sentinel


What does it mean to be a doctor? On-calls and sleep deprivation? Insurance disputes and malpractice suits? Golf and big bank balances? Elitism and self-indulgence?

No. It is the dedication and selflessness to rush to the hospital after receiving a 3 a.m. page, the good will and fortitude not to deny care to patients because they cannot afford it, the spirit and humanity to devote a lifetime to aid, assist, comfort and cure. It's a cliché for medical-school applicants to say they want to "help, heal and save" because once they graduate, they'll be helping, healing and saving lives every day. Somehow, the admiration that these actions and qualities once demanded has been lost in the hustle and bustle of our lives, perhaps in selfishness, perhaps unrealized and unintentional.

Unfortunately, rising health-care costs, health-care and medical-liability reform and malpractice-insurance rates were among the topics of the recent presidential and vice-presidential debates as issues that cannot be ignored. But whether the system or the policies, the lawyers or the politicians are to be blamed, fault also lies within our society.

We forget that life and death do not lie in human hands. We expect infallibility but offer no gratitude for near perfection. Doctors are not paid millions of dollars for every life they save, yet they can be sued for such an amount even after doing everything in their power to prevent death.

The idea of suing physicians for monetary compensation is in itself deserving of criticism; such an action reduces their benevolent careers to mere businesses. We should remember that incompetent doctors are few and far between, and those who pursue a medical career "for the money" will either leave the profession upon realizing the emotional depth involved, or rebuke themselves after figuring out that their salaries are nothing compared with the satisfaction of making such positive contributions to the world.

The good doctors know that sometimes patients just want a listener, that a kind doctor's name is remembered longer than an antibiotic, and that emotions have the same healing potential that treatment does. Good patients realize that physicians who identify these things and act accordingly are not asking for much if all they want in return is respect and appreciation.

As a doctor's daughter, I know the sacrifices that come with the profession. We forget that doctors have families and obligations, and, most important, the same emotions that everyone else does. The affluence of a doctor is a stereotype -- they have loans to pay off. Physicians are more than their white coats and stethoscopes; they are human beings. Considering how much of themselves they invest into their profession, including nine years of education after college, they have certainly earned their time off.

We must dispel politics from their workplaces and admit to the unfairness that we treat them with, because those who serve humanity deserve better.

Anjuli M. Sharma, 18, of Leesburg attends Dartmouth College.
Reprinted with permission.