Don’t hate the player; hate the game

// October 21, 2016

With the recent furor that was created by the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) in their pursuit of better education for their members, there seems to be a lot of hate for doctors on social media and pretty much all other forms of media.

In a country where doctor bashing has almost become a national sport, my objective is to offer a counterpoint. Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe added fuel to the fire with his statement that there are no special professional groups in the country. This ignited and infused thousands of middle-class Sri Lankans to unleash their hatred of doctors via any means possible.

Why doctors are special.

Not everyone can become a doctor, in the Sri Lankan context it entails that you pass the Advanced Level examination with flying colours and pursue a bachelor’s degree of six years. This is followed by a year of internship after which you receive the license to practise medicine.

There are of course lateral entrants, notably students that have studied abroad. They too face an equally gruelling exam known as the Act 16 which leads to a one-year internship.I was quite surprised to see on facebook, that in reply to a doctor who said that he worked seventeen hours on a Sunday another user had commented : “dude honestly, there are working moms who work 20 hours day, seven days a week to put food on the table for three kids.”.My response: so the next time you get appendicitis ask a working mom with three kids to treat you. Not that I am belittling other occupations, but not everyone can perform an appendectomy. It takes almost ten years of dedicated learning including four to five years of postgraduate study to do so.

In a society that is developed, all occupations are treated equally, no one is more important than the other. Well, Sri Lanka is not a developed society. There is very little social security or social investment in individuals. As such it is important to retain those in specialised occupations. In addition to these, doctors in developed countries work according to strict rosters, that ensure that they don’t suffer from fatigue or burnout. There is no such regulation here, our hospitals are overworked and understaffed. Yet we manage to maintain good health care statistics. Our waiting lists for elective surgical procedures are shorter than in the NHS- UK.

How is this possible? Doctors often stretch themselves, neglecting their families and friends to ensure that they maintain the quality of healthcare delivery. In a country where the government sector is often labeled as being inefficient and lethargic, the health service has managed to stay on par or at times exceed the private sector.


Fig-1 Sri Lanka’s more bang for less bucks; low cost healthcare model. We have the lowest doctor to patient ratio, the lowest percentage of health expenditure of the GDP and the worst paid doctors.


 Why doctors deserve special treatment.

With reference to the recent fiasco of allocating popular schools to doctor’s children. The system of elite schools centered in Colombo, Kandy etc. were created by incumbent governments and poor education policy. Instead of upgrading peripheral schools; lots of money was poured into these elite schools, encouraged by past pupils who had become influential policymakers. Bringing Sri Lanka’s education to its current state, where education at a popular elite school is likely to offer better chances of university education and good job prospects. Doctors are not to be blamed for the failures of the Ministry of Education, they simply want their kids to have a good education. Whether or not peripheral schools should be developed is outside their purview, it is a matter for policy makers and the influential middle class to ponder, rather than setting their sights on medical professionals.

"Are we seriously asking these individuals to jeopardise their kids’ education just because they received the free education like everyone else?"

There is a severe shortage of doctors in the periphery, especially consultants. Therefore it is a matter of national interest to ensure that these professionals are given adequate incentives. There are many stories of consultants who have left the country or resigned from the government sector simply because their kids were not admitted into schools. Are we seriously asking these individuals to jeopardise their kids’ education just because they received the free education like everyone else?If doctors were to falsify documents and use political influence to gain admission like most other parents, would anyone bother as much?

The time has come to take a long hard look at our priorities as a nation, do we really want to break the backbone of our healthcare system?


AnuradhaB is a doctor pursuing a career in ophthalmology. He also has experience in print media and content marketing. He used to dream of a Marxist revolution but now spends most of his time shopping and playing with his pet beagle.



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