09 October 2013

A physician talks of quacks and quackery

[In a parallel universe called 'Humility']

No, I am not saying that we are a perfect breed.  We are as imperfect as your random pick from any other profession.  There are levels of competency. There are levels of honesty and integrity too.  We cut corners, we peddle drugs, milk formula and other stuff for a little ‘something’. Some of us are in the business of selling costly lenses and stents. We too use threat and cajole in the right mix to persuade our patients to empty their pockets.  Oh yes, we know how to pick if we want to. Not all of us of course, but some most certainly.  

We do have something called pride.  Dignity is important to us.  Like all professionals, we are not happy when there’s a slur on what we do.  As I said, not all of us are clean, and as such there are many who deserve to be called ‘quacks’ both for professional incompetence and lack of integrity.   

And yet, the quackery that we as a collective are guilty of is nothing compared to the quackery of those who have had little or no medical training. I am talking of those who have been trained to read prescriptions masquerading as physicians, and of course outright crooks with no medical training whatsoever, not even dispensing drugs, setting up shop to diagnose and prescribe for a fee.  There are many.  So when they get caught I am happy. 

The thing about such quacks is that they can be caught at any time and they are too, sooner or later.  What really gets my goat are the quacks who not only give us a bad name, but flaunt their quackery in public and get a lot of bucks for the flaunting to boot. 

You see them on television all the time.  All it takes to be a ‘TV Doctor’ is to have a long white coat the kind that you see doctors wear and a stethoscope.  Wait, it also helps to wear spectacles and in the case of male ‘doctors’ to be clean shaven and to have a well-groomed look, hair nicely combed and all that. 

What really bugs the hell out of me is that these quacks actually endorse products, brands and practices as though they have obtained license from the World Health Organization to do so, often acting as though their claims are backed by solid research that yielded irrefutable conclusions. 

Now we do get so-called professional associations endorsing products or ‘clearing’ them in the classic whitewashing exercise that many find to be very remunerative.  We see their office-bearers similarly offering endorsement as though it is the official view of the membership.  But ‘TV Doctors’ are the limit.  If real doctors are small time pickpockets, these TV quacks are big time embezzlers. 
Those of us who bend the rules here and there, but these jokers don’t have any rules.  Don’t get me wrong, it is not about jealousy.  The problem is that people look up to doctors.  Since patients don’t know any better, they take the doctor’s word as though it is Gospel Truth or an extension of the Chaturarya Satyaya or the Four Noble Truth expounded by the Buddha Siddhartha Gauthama. 

Most, if not all, don’t know that the jokers who flash across the TV screen are models and not qualified physicians. Not just these quacks but the peddlers of the brands and products they ‘endorse’ as well as the relevant media stations are guilty of deliberate  attempts at mass duping.

Oh yes, it’s not just on television, these quacks are often ‘posted’ to remote places where fresh markets of gullible consumers are being explored.  The long white coat and stethoscope will do it.  Heck, out there in the back of beyond you can even call these quacks ‘doctor’ while peddling your energy drinks, skin-whiteners, toothpaste and whatnot, and most will go along; no one will ask for the degree certificate after all. 

So yes, I am livid.  I am wondering why the Ministry of Heath, the Sri Lanka Medical Association and the Government Medical Officers’ Association are letting these quacks get away with murder.   I am wondering what the true worth of my medical degree is.  I am wondering whether it would have been easier for me to get beauty treatment and try out as a model instead of sweating it through medical college, for if quackery is permitted and if outright quackery is more remunerative, then a doctor is a poor cousin to a TV quack.