In an unprecedented move Thursday, more than two dozen West Virginia surgeons walked out of their jobs because of rising malpractice premiums. While the strike may be within their right, the idea of doctors walking out on patients isn’t a happy one. The surgeons should have remembered their pledge to help the sick and stayed on the job while working on a resolution.
While the rising cost of malpractice insurance is a concern for many doctors, the biggest concern for doctors should be their patients. A resolution to this problem may be long in coming, and the doctors cannot expect to be permitted not to work for the length of the negotiations.
It seems the ability to strike, once the last resort of the blue collar worker, has become the first threat of workforces all around the country. Mass transit workers in New York City threatened to strike during the Christmas holiday, and the city was only saved from major transportation problems by an eleventh hour negotiation. While city employees are technically not allowed to strike, this did not stop the workers from threatening to do so or sending city officials into a frenzy.
While there are definitely appropriate reasons for workers to strike about, whether they be blue or white collar, the choice of surgeons to strike is in particular bad taste. The absence of surgeons not only affects patients who have scheduled upcoming surgeries but also emergency rooms that have no surgeons on duty. This will require hospitals to transfer patients and delay surgeries. While it is overly dramatic to think this will cause unnecessary casualties, the possibility exists.
The question for the surgeons who walked out is whether the ideals of the Hippocratic Oath take precedence over insurance premiums. Considering all the money surgeons are paid, the average American, who could become the next patient, should certainly hope it does.