Should doctors participate in protests?

Although the news more often features nurses on the picket lines, as is the case recently in California, a column in this week's The Atlantic questions whether physicians should participate in protest--either on the front lines or in less obvious ways, such as civil disobedience.

Earlier this year, members of the University of Wisconsin's Department of Family Medicine who sympathized with teachers and public employees wrote sick notes for the protestors. The act signaled what some called a step too far in patient advocacy, breaking the trust between physicians and society.

Around the world in Bahrain, officials jailed 20 doctors for their role in democratic protests in September, reports Reuters. The physicians, among dozens of other medical staff members, denied charges of stealing medicine, stockpiling weapons, and occupying a hospital; they said authorities concocted the charges for treating anti-government protestors, according to the article.

Elsewhere in Cairo, 200 doctors last month protested outside the Cabinet headquarters, demanding better healthcare, increased pay, and improved hospital security, while thousands of physicians went on strike, reports Daily News Egypt.

The publicly (and perhaps inadvertently) sympathizing physicians beg the question whether doctors can and should engage in protest.

"We have the right to be political actors--doctors are citizens too--but we risk harming the default credibility that comes with the profession if we don't choose our battles carefully," said Dr. Ford Vox in a column in The Atlantic.

However, he writes that physicians be mindful that the reputation of the profession may be on the line for personal decisions.

"With a medical degree comes the fact that whatever we have to say in the domain of public discourse will be interpreted through the lens of your connection to the medical profession."

For more information:
- read the Atlantic column
- read the Reuters article
- read the Daily News Egypt article

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