Should Medics Be Political?

I think all medics, whether in training or graduated, should possess a political opinion. One they can stand by and one they can express. As a medic myself, I’ve noticed, we are generally socialised to focus solely on delivering the best care to patients and to remain neutral when it comes to politics. But the reality is that politics affects us in more overt ways than we even begin to realise, especially in healthcare.

Initially, my personal observations drove me to write this blog post. When dealing with internal politics especially in academia, institutional racism and persistent inequality etc. etc., I am often told to keep my head down and mind my own business. Sometimes this comes from a place of love and concern, other times it doesn’t. Nonetheless, I am typically advised to take the path of least resistance and in all honesty, there are times where I genuinely internalise this.

This is a trend that I have noticed amongst other medics. Often we are told to concentrate on our career and ignore the politics that dictate how we do our job. A few weeks ago, I witnessed medical students face some criticism for speaking out on political issues. I thought to myself, there’s really no need for our opinions to be policed because society says so.

Medical education does play a major role in how we are expected to remain neutral. Often medical students are taught to memorise and learn things by the book - not to challenge why things are the way they are. I have never been asked to challenge those who teach me - because the doctor knows it all right? - it does feel rather paternalistic. Not to knock their experience at all but all professions may have individuals that exhibit some form of ignorance. So when I intercalated in Global Health, I was shocked by how I was encouraged to argue, even with academic staff. I feel as though this is a privilege that not all medical students receive.

Oftentimes observing a stance of neutrality may manifest itself as it’s not my place, I'm just here to do my job, I’m just a medic - this is all too much. There’s definitely a bit more nuance involved - linked to the intersection between misogyny, class, race, age and sexuality - but the point still stands: we don’t like to talk about politics.