By SAURABH JHA, MD
Recently, my niece gingerly confided that she was going to study engineering rather than medicine. I was certain she’d become a doctor – so deep was her love for biology and her deference to our family tradition. But she calculated, as would anyone with common sense, that with an engineering degree and an MBA, she’d be working for a multinational company making a comfortable income by twenty-eight. If she stuck with tradition and altruism, as a doctor she’d still be untrained and preparing for examinations at twenty-eight.
Despite the truism in India that doctors are the only professionals never at risk of starving, the rational case for becoming a physician never was strong. Doctors always needed a dose of the irrational, an assumption of integrity and an unbridled goodwill to keep going. Once, doctors commanded both the mystery of science and the magic of metaphysics. As medicine became for-profit, the metaphysics slowly disappeared.
Indians are becoming more prosperous. They’re also less fatalistic and expect less from their gods and more from their doctors. In the beginning they treated their doctors as gods, now they see that doctors have feet of clay, too. Doctors, who once outsourced the limitations of medicine to the will of Gods, summarized by the famous Bollywood line “inko dawa ki nahin dua ki zaroorat hai” (patient needs prayers not drugs), now must internalize medicine’s limitations. And there are many – medicine is still an imperfect science, a stubborn art, often an optimistic breeze fighting forlornly against nature’s implacable gale.