We wade back into the issue of doctors' ethics with two letters to the Straits Times today - one by Bob Kamei from Duke-NUS and another by retired surgeon SC Ong. These letters confirm the growing concern about the standards of ethics and professionalism in our doctors.
Two issues come to mind.
Firstly, there appears to be an elitist attitude fostered in our school system that starts from a pretty young age, carries all the way to medical school, and through into the working life of doctors. The medical school need to do more to correct this aberration, even though they are essentially the inheritors of a problem that began quite a few years earlier. Parents need to do more...because generally elitist parental attitudes beget elitist expectations in their children.
Secondly, medical schools need to disabuse these students of the notion that they have 'earned' their place in society, and that somehow it is society that 'owes' them, rather than the converse. These students believe that as they have fought so hard to get into medical school, they should early on reap the rewards of their struggle. Medical schools should do more to correct this malignant attitude and to foster a greater sense of servanthood in the doctors we produce. This is not easy because of the very materialistic self-serving culture that pervades our society, but the medical school must not shirk from this responsibility.
On this latter point, I am continually disappointed in the medical school for her nominal efforts to discipline students' bad attitude and behaviour even when it is recognized. Why do you think the student's grow up into doctors who are quite happy to overlook each other's bad behaviour? I am quite sure the medical schools will protest their innocence, but we should ask these schools just how many students have they ever 'failed' from the course after they have entered the school? Almost none. Are there no students with demonstrable bad attitudes? No disciplinary problems? Were they all so correctable that almost all students who enter the school graduate as upright citizens who will go out to make exemplary doctors? Surely this has not been the case because otherwise we will not be having these discussions about falling standards of ethics and professionalism.
Unfortunately in recent times the student-teacher relationship has been subverted by populist measures to position the student as a consumer and the teacher, a service provider. This is unhealthy and untenable. Often careers of young medical teachers have been held to ransom by student's 'feedback scores etc. Such an environment does not make it easy, nor even possible to teach discipline and ethics.
I have said it before....if we want better doctors, we desperately need to reboot the system.
We claim it is a noble profession. We make graduands pledge to honor the profession and make it noble. But we lack the courage and fortitude to make it so.
5 years ago