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Doctors also face trauma and have bills to pay

Health & Science
 It is said that every doctor remembers the first patient they ever lost or saw die. [iStockphoto]

There's a conversation around the health workforce in Kenya that we keep on parrying. If that wasn't the case, the common question "Are doctors striking again?" wouldn't even appear as banal, and certainly not framed in that way.

There's an argument that's often put forth, that the medical profession is one of the very few where they pledge an oath to 'do no harm' and as such the remuneration is secondary to what many terms as "calling to serve".

That's one way to put it. Another way is to argue that doctors are human too.

For now, I will hold back the discussion on the financial incentive and the fact that doctors have bills to pay and families to provide for. I will discuss the trauma we undergo.

It is said that every doctor remembers the first patient they ever lost or saw die.

Certainly, I remember only too well. I was still in medical school as part of the students rotating inwards. The patient was a six-year-old boy who had been recuperating after a surgical procedure. I remember his mother thanking the consultant profusely and the boy smiling at us. The next morning, he was no more.

I can't remember his name and I never got to see his mother again, but I remember the sleepless night. A few hours earlier, I had seen their two faces happy that he was on the road to recovery. Many might not term the sudden loss as traumatic, and certainly, I didn't at the time, but that was painful.

It is one thing when doctors lose patients on the surgical table while in the process of saving a life. But when the patient is out of the woods, then for some unexpected complication, if not fate, passes on just as you were planning how they would be discharged soon and be back with their families, it is another. When it is a child who had their entire life ahead of them, you also grieve.

Doctors might not say so, but they too do grieve, and this has an impact on their lives. And if walls could talk, there would be a strong push for doctors to be offered post-traumatic counselling, a service that they would have to pay for with the salaries they are not receiving.

That was me as a medical student, traumatised and perhaps even depressed. I know of others, as we all do, who dropped out of medical school for various reasons. But I bet the majority of those who do so in later years cite trauma.

Now if we are to speak to practicing doctors who made it through rigorous training and every day choose to look death in the eye and say 'not today', what tales of trauma would they have? Then they are to carry that, count pennies, juggle what bills to pay, and at the end of the day go to their homes where they are facing eviction. Are doctors, not humans too?

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