Violence Against Doctors Needs To Stop

I enrolled in MBBS in August 2013. Since then, I have been hearing stories of doctors being assaulted and grievously injured every now and then.

  • August 2016: B.J. Govt Medical College, Pune, Maharashtra
    – Dr. Abhijit Jawanjal and Dr. Sadiq Yunus beaten up.
  • March 2017: Dhule Civil Hospital, Dhule, Maharashtra
    – Dr. Rohan Mhamorkar beaten up, lost vision in his left eye. Medical professionals in many hospitals across the country wore helmets to work for a couple of days after this incident, as a sign of protest.
  • May 2018: Sion Hospital, Mumbai, Maharashtra
    – Dr. Atish Parikh thrashed, Dr. S. Dharmadhikari manhandled. Protests followed. Residents across Maharashtra wore black ribbons across their white aprons as a mark of their displeasure, working in an unsafe environment.

There have been many more episodes, some reported, most of them unreported or hushed out.

Yet another episode of violence against doctors stirred up the medical fraternity on 12th June 2019, when two intern doctors at NRS Medical College, Kolkata, received near fatal injuries at the hands of a 200 strong mob after a 75 year old patient died in the medicine ward. The relatives of the patient alleged medical negligence on the part of the doctors.

Dr. Paribaha Mukhopadhyay, an intern doctor at NRS Medical college, suffered a fracture on his skull after the mob threw bricks at him. He is now reported to be out of danger but continues to be in the intensive care unit.

The Resident Doctors Association at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi released a statement to the press that there would be a “nation wide protest” if the issue fails to get the attention it deserves. I know very well, what will actually happen.

Hitting doctors when the patient dies has become a norm. Agitations and protests and doctors’ strikes immediately follow. But nothing major happens after that. After about a week of gradually weaning discussions and debates, the issue dies down, the Hippocratic Oath kicks in and residents and interns and all other protesting doctors get back to work, only to be assaulted again.

The likelihood of the current agitation among the resident and intern doctors across the country is likely to settle down similarly, since Dr. Mukhoapdhyay has now been pronounced out of danger. And why not?... a fractured skull can be successfully repaired. The country knows well that doctors of even one city will not execute a coordinated shut down for a day, let alone planning an indefinite nationwide standstill of healthcare delivery.

The problem is that planning a nationwide paralysis of health care delivery system means a planning a nationwide disaster. No emergency services, no life support, no ambulances, no deliveries, no babies, no vaccinations – only loads of unaddressed misery unfolding. Sympathy for the ailing, alarming numbers of seriously debilitated patients and the “Ethics lessons” will kick in, way before any agitation can gain momentum. We doctors are bound by an oath to serve those who need our medical know how, despite our personal conditions. This is becoming an easy weakness to be exploited by patients and their relatives, when the treatment and its outcome do not conform to their expectations.

If you think doctors are akin to gods…sorry, we are not, let me tell you that. We are as human as the patients we treat. We are not magicians or wizards either. Dear patients – Please stop living under the delusion of your doctor’s capability to fix any illness that you may bring to them. We are your fellow citizens, whom the government doesn’t get any special privileges for rendering selfless service, slogging odd hours, working in pathetic work environments… We do not try, or propagate any creative, experimental treatments, we go by the book. There are protocols that are followed irrespective of the patient’s background. We have no personal interest in seeing our patients die…trust me, we look forward to filling up a discharge card, and not signing a death certificate.

If there is indeed an element of negligence on the part of the doctor, the medical boards have specified very strict punishments. No doctor would knowingly commit gross negligence at the risk of losing his/her practicing licence. Besides, resorting to violence, even in a proven case of negligence cannot bring back your patient. Sue the doctor, let the courts and the legal team handle the situation. If the doctor's negligence does get proven, justice will be delivered.

Let us not miss an important point here. It has always been the resident and intern doctors facing the vandalism of the mobs. A young 20-something year old student, lowest in the hierarchy of doctors in the given institute, who is only following the protocol set by his department, is the one getting thrashed in the middle of the night. Why is this young doctor wasting his time, energy and youth over such ungrateful patients? Only to get beaten to a pulp? Physical injuries are an occupational risk for those in defence. When did they become a foreseeable risk among health care professionals? Those who are supposed to tend to wounds are themselves being rolled into operation theatres because their patients could not control as much as their temper?? How fair does that sound?

Dear parents of aspiring doctors – know that you’re about to send your child into a rather dangerous battlefield. Your child is about to battle life and death everyday. First, the life of the patient he/she is trying to treat with no guarantee of winning the battle. And in case your child loses that battle, he/she may as well be battling his/her own death, because some mindless drunk idiot will storm into the hospital with a 100 other similarly inebriated junkies, and beat the life out of your bundle of aspirations and dreams. It will only be a miracle if the young doctor survives the physical injuries. The mental trauma of the impact is best not discussed here.

The NRS Medical College Kolkata incident is only one more addition to the episodes of violence against doctors. And the masterstroke here is that a mob won’t be charged with any crime. The perpetrators will all walk out free while the young doctor may start looking at alternate career options. Many more such incidents will follow, unless this issue gets discussed adequately and public gets sensitized about the fact that doctors are human too. They try their best to deliver the best possible treatment to all patients. Lives are lost despite best efforts. Hitting them draws the same kind of blood as the kind that flows in the patients' veins. If they don’t make it through, death doesn’t differentiate between patients and doctors.

My parents are not doctors. My family knows about violence against doctors because I belong to the medical fraternity. This is not a subject that gets discussed in an average Indian household. That is why it needs to get discussed; it is time it got discussed. Please do your part in spreading awareness about this issue. 

The general opinion about a doctor is that of a marketing strategist, who prescribes expensive treatments that don’t work and orders fancy investigations that are beyond affordability. This is far from reality. Google has led patients and relatives to believe that they know more than their doctor, who has invested at least a decade of his/her life in going meticulously through enormous amount of medical literature. People come with unreasonable expectations, failing to meet which is leading to physical violence. This entire situation needs to change.

The doctor seeks…BEGS for your protection today. The country needs more doctors. It may be your sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, or friends who aspire to be a part of this noble profession. Give them, at least a safe work environment, where they can be sure of their own survival before they start saving other’s lives. Resident and intern doctors have been demanding better working conditions since forever. The least we should be promised is safety against mortal danger at work place.


More by :  Dr. Sailusha Vadapalli

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