Our Doctors and Nurses Deserve Better


Billy Ferguson/Fourth Estate

Although coronavirus has wreaked havoc and exposed the deficiencies of governments at every level and in every corner of the globe, there are some silver linings. It has shown us that telework (when possible) may not be bad for productivity, that online classes can be just as beneficial as in-person ones and that we have mistreated our healthcare workers for far too long.

Imagine for a moment that you are a physician. You have likely gone through at least three years of undergraduate schooling, four years of graduate schooling, three to seven years of residency training and another couple of years of fellowship training. Throughout this time, you may have amassed six figures in student loans. You have taken more standardized tests than you can count and have been grilled dozens, if not hundreds, of times on the highly specialized expertise that you possess. The reward that you receive for all of this is that you get to make a decent living and care for the members of our society that are sick and need help. 

But that’s not the whole story. Not only do you have to worry about caring for the sick and helping the needy, but you also have to perform extensive, and often menial, documentation on a computer for multiple hours a day, constantly reevaluate system-level medical practices and work long hours and shifts, without protest. 

And to top it all off, if you are working during a global pandemic, you can be all but certain that you will not have the personal protective equipment you need to keep you safe. Surely (and hopefully) by now, you see what is wrong with this picture. The very same people who we expect to get us out of this mess are being treated poorly.

We should not have to ask that doctors, nurses and other equally vital healthcare workers take unnecessary risks to do their job. We should not allow hospitals to fire physicians who speak up against the mismanagement and mistreatment they are witnessing and experiencing during this global pandemic. And we definitely should not be cutting physician pay at a time like this.

This issue is reflective of a larger problem in medicine which is that doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers are constantly being backed into a corner. If they do whatever is asked of them with no protest, they are lauded as heroes by the press but continue to not receive proper protection and compensation. On the other hand, if they fight for financial compensation and protection, their loyalty to patient care and their desire to help others is called into question. This unique position makes them vulnerable and easy to take advantage of, because either they allow themselves to be mistreated, or they allow the optics to work against them.

There’s no easy solution to this problem, but the first step is to stop expecting that doctors and nurses work no matter the circumstances. They deserve the same level of on-the-job protection we give to other workers, especially during a time of crisis.