Psychiatric Views on the Daily News - Episode 62

Should Medical Doctors Ever Go on Strike in the United States?

As rising health care needs meet inadequate resources and overstressed physicians, is a strike necessary?

PSYCHIATRIC VIEWS ON THE DAILY NEWS

On December 28th, 2021, there was an article in The New York Times on “A lengthy doctors’ strike over understaffing sparks chaos at New Delhi Hospitals.”1 At the same time, the Omicron COVID-19 variant was overwhelming understaffed medical facilities there, junior doctors were going on strike, joined by medical students across India. The protests were apparently triggered by delays in placing medical school graduates in positions at government health facilities. Thousands of doctors on strike were detained by the police.

By last week, the strikes were over after promises from the government. As 1 of my prominent psychiatrist colleagues in India, who supported the strikes, communicated to me:

“In India, too, strikes by doctors are generally held illegal. It is a last resort . . . You win, if you have strength and are able to show it.”

Here in the United States, health care facilities are also becoming overwhelmed by COVID-19, with epidemic levels of burnout and compassion fatigue increasing even more. Control is not by the government so much here, but by for-profit businesses. Instead of being hailed as heroes, as they were in 2020, physicians are sometimes assaulted by families wanting some unproven treatment. Even with adequate protective equipment, they are also getting infected.

And yet, I have heard no calls for striking here. Yes, it is illegal under our seemingly obsolete antitrust laws. Should they be challenged?

Certainly, we have a terribly paradoxical situation as rising health care needs meet inadequate resources and overstressed physicians. On the surface, any sort of strike would worsen the health care problems, at least in the short run. But, in the long run, would it help? If not, what will?

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues relate to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric TimesTM.

Reference

1. Yasir S. A lengthy doctors’ strike over understaffing sparks chaos at New Delhi hospitals. The New York Times. December 28, 2021. Accessed January 10, 2022. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/28/world/new-delhi-doctor-strike.html