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The Complete Idiot’s Guide To Doctors’ Strikes

We are aware that occasionally doctors go on strike in some or the other part of India. The general public’s reactions (and apparently even the judiciary’s) to doctors’ strikes are, however, based on extremely idealistic and impractical premises. A resident doctor’s (in India, a ‘doctors’ strike’ is almost always a resident doctors’ strike) quality of life is indeed most egregious despite repeated assurances by the government over improvements, and their only hope towards some betterment (in the unique Indian political scenario) — a strike — is always derided by the general public: people from whom they actually expect at least as much sympathy and empathy as the latter expect from them. Here we attempt to bust a few myths about health workers’ strikes and hope to arm the common man with extra knowledge to form an informed opinion.

Dr Kiran Sambhaji Kumbhar

Patients die when doctors go on strike.

This is surely the most ridiculous of corollaries. We see nincompoop reporters framing headlines like ‘Doctors strike in UP: 6 patients die’. I would invite the exceedingly erudite reporter to go see the records of hospital deaths on any non-strike day, and they’ll definitely find similar death numbers. But of course they know that; what matters to them is melodrama. In fact doctors find very hard to understand the always completely insane reaction of the media to their valid causes. We only hope that the trend changes.

There are dozens of factors that can cause the death of a patient and, frankly, doctors on strike doesn’t figure anywhere in the list. Whenever there is a fire in a hospital, a calamity or whatever, most doctors and healthcare workers rush for patients’ safety first and foremost, not caring about their own: that is JUST THEIR NATURE. And even when a section of a hospital’s workers goes on strike, there are always enough trained, professional personnel present to take care of critical patients. No one is allowed to die due to negligence.

Doctors should ideally never be allowed to go on strike.

Imagine your next-door neighbour playing ear-splitting, deafening, utterly crappy music day in and day out, and you are not even allowed to go to him and tell him to shut the hell up. Only choice you are left with is to suffer. That’s what happens with doctors. Remember, for all resident doctors in India, the government is but a next-door neighbour! (In fact, if I were the above nincompoop reporter, my headline would have read ‘Doctors Strike: Apathetic Govt Kills 6 Patients’.) Almost every day doctors have to encounter the government in all its various (vicious) avatars: corruption, apathy, helplessness to assist genuine patients, archaic rules and laws, nonsensical regulations, MLAs and local politicians making unethical demands, etc etc. There are endless issues in the healthcare system and doctors bear the brunt bravely and silently most of the time. But every once in a while, the govt makes it absolutely impossible for them to work in the status quo, with some explosion becoming unavoidably necessary to shake lethargic authorities. A strike is only a last resort, and if people are seeing strikes more frequently these days, then they better ruminate on how hopeless the administration has become that a last resort mechanism has to be employed more often. There is nothing wrong with doctors going on strike for the right reasons, more so because ultimately the benefits trickle down to the only all-important entity of any health system, the patient; satisfied doctors and better facilities are obviously going to result in better patient services.

Doctors just want pay raises out of strikes.

There are two issues here. Firstly, why is demanding a better pay considered wrong? And secondly, more medico strikes happen for better security, infrastructure, and quality of life than for better pay.

Everyone wants a good salary, and society and media should now seriously do away with this age-old practice of expecting some kind of ‘ideal’ attitude from doctors and nurses. Even teachers strike for better pay by boycotting board exams. Since the public is so obsessed with the argument that doctors deal with people’s LIVES so they shouldn’t go on strikes, it’s queer why they don’t employ it when doctors demand better pay: how can they stand someone who deals with their very lives being paid so miserably? Of course life is priceless, and to be honest any pay that a doctor gets is always going to be ‘inadequate’ by such parameters. Still, everyone has a right to a decent life, be it doctors, teachers or taxi drivers. So when govt apathy forces them to go on strike, the best thing to do is display empathy.

Secondly, as has been time and again pointed out by doctors themselves and by some (good) journalists (yes they do exist! Just like bad doctors; both subsets being a minority though), the living conditions of most resident doctors in India are totally outrageous. Cramped rooms, filthy bathrooms, pests everywhere, inadequate sleep, sudden patient and politician violence — you name it. The government is aware of all that but does nothing. And then when things go out of hand, a strike becomes inevitable. Doctors seriously won’t go on a strike unless forced to: toiling hard to see a smile on a patient’s face is much more satisfying than dealing with idiotic, corrupt, selfish authorities.

All in all, people should remember that striking doctors are not a nuisance, but a sign of a healthy, thriving democracy. A sign that someone somewhere is fed up with misgovernance and peacefully exhibiting their dissatisfaction (unlike the violence you see in the most desecrated temple of India, the Parliament). It would do good for the general public too to shed their scepticism about doctors’ strike because ultimately the strikes benefit the common man: public hospitals and their patients; and because ultimately as citizens we must always extend support to a genuinely dissenting individual since tomorrow it may be us who are dissenting and in need of support (a very very real possibility seeing the kind of politicians we have bred). As someone said: All it takes for evil to succeed is for a few good men to do nothing.

Dr Kiran Kumbhar
MBBS (2010)
Sassoon Hospital, Pune


  1. Balbir Singh Balbir Singh Wednesday, March 19, 2014

    Doctors just want pay raises out of strikes.

    It is ok that Dr should not go on strike, but as we all know that the main reason behind strike is salary, why Dr’s want more salary, is this government thinking on it? This is because Dr’s know that there is no alternative for them, which made monopoly of doc’s. Government should think on it and go for alternative profession who can work in such situation so that doc’s cant think about strike. There are glut of allopathic degree holder including B Pharm, M. Pharms, MS Pharma, Pharm D student who has ability to deal with such situation if little attention is paid to them. They all are facing this bad governance, because this government is not working for their future in real.

    In my view they could be better alternative in such situation, Government should go for them.

  2. Dr. Prakash Mehta Dr. Prakash Mehta Friday, March 14, 2014

    gradually political methods for gaining cheap popularity and media’s methods for sensationalism and writer’s methods for fanning popular beliefs against allopathic (more so) doctors will harm the society at large.

  3. saurabh jain saurabh jain Friday, March 14, 2014

    Very good article….

  4. Dr Prakash Chitalkar Dr Prakash Chitalkar Friday, March 14, 2014

    I agree with Dr Kumbhar.

    Striking Doctors suddenly are seen as the problem. And surely no patient dies in a hospital even during the strike, without receiving care.
    In the recent case, the authorities were not willing to book the politicians misbehaving.

    The plight of our junior doctors hostels is indeed pathetic and unless the doctors themselves agitate
    for better pay and condition of service, nothing ever improves.

    Once in a way , society should take this as a mirror of the human condition.

    As a medical teacher, former armed forces doctor, I find the academic, esoteric standards falling over the years, but one aspect of caring among our doctors is shining brightly, and that is their altruism.

    Altruism , even among our junior most, is alive and well !

    So society and government should look in this mirror and be realistic.

    Jai Hind !!

  5. Joker Joker Friday, March 14, 2014

    Well said Dr Kiran!
    Thanks for summarizing crisply.
    But we doctors already know all this. There seem to be limited options we can pursue.

    This write up should be in a good newspaper, ideally not in a doctor’s forum anymore, where we will only continue to lament among ourselves.

    Most of us will agree that sometimes a strike is the only option.
    But more than the filthy politicians it is the innocent public that takes notice and bears the brunt. The cunning political goons are quick to pin the blame on medical fraternity with the help of corrupt media (fully aware that doctors wont hit back in cheap ways below the belt- i.e. cultural difference between politicians+media and doctors, you see).

    Hope there is at least some section of media that is unsold and will publish this well written piece.

  6. prashant chaudhari prashant chaudhari Friday, March 14, 2014

    well spoken and what can we say this is the ugly truth

  7. Burbak Burbak Wednesday, March 12, 2014

    The hypocrisy of the Indian media is legendary. They see all; they know all; they understand all. Yet, when it is time to “show all,” they tow the line of their pathetic political masters.

    The coverage of doctor’s issues by the Indian media is stage-managed by the local government or political leadership (either party). The aim is to misled the people and then portray the political leadership as the messiah of the masses reigning in the unruly greedy doctors.

    The people of this country always love a great good-vs-evil story. Doctors have become the unwitting demons. The people, of course, enjoy these stories to the hilt.

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