Can Physicians Help Heal the Body Politic?

John L. Marshall, MD


January 29, 2016

Editorial Collaboration

Medscape &

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"Very, Very Anxious About the World"

Hey, everybody. This is John Marshall for Medscape, from my basement. It is Sunday. I am in Sunday clothes. Yes, I am working. I am trying to get ready for the week ahead, just like I am sure you do every weekend.

I ended 2015 and began 2016 on a pretty sour note. I am very, very anxious about the world. In fact, I have tried to shoot this blog three times—this is my third time—and I keep not quite getting it right. I am kind of in the mood for a rant, and I went off and just talked about all the things that are bugging me. I'm having trouble putting my thoughts together about what has got me going. I slept with the windows open on Christmas Eve. There is something wrong with that, fundamentally, but what has got me more shaken is all that is going on in the world.

Let's start with a global picture: the whole ISIS thing and safety for our people around the world, with this rising anger that is coming up in pockets all around the world. It has got us completely unsettled everywhere we go. We've got a real problem with guns in our world, particularly in the United States. So many people have guns and so many people are buying more guns. On the other hand, police don't want to be police anymore because it is just not a very fulfilling job. Let's face it: It is a dangerous job and they are now under the spotlight. I am worried about how we are going to even maintain basic order.

Then we have this presidential candidate who is running around out there inciting anger and mistrust of anybody who doesn't look like he does. His answer for our problem is that we will just build a bigger wall. We will keep anybody who we don't want out of our country. The more I think about it, the common thread here is that we have this incredible increasing gap between those who have and those who have not, the rich and the poor. It is getting larger and larger, and because we are lucky enough to be on that rich side, we are doing everything we can to hold on to what we have, to protect what we have and keep those other folks away by building that bigger wall or having more police or more guns.

But the other folks are rising, right? They are smarter and educated and have access to information. They are grouping together, and whether it is in the Middle East or in Asia or the United States, wherever you look, this tension is clearly rising. Some people are stirring the pot and others are trying to calm it down, and I have been anxious about this. How are we going to solve this? Are we just going to build higher and bigger walls or kick the problem down the road? Or will we, in some way, build a bridge that levels this out, that brings those less fortunate along, educating through jobs and other vehicles?

How Can Physicians Help?

So then I was thinking, what is our role as healthcare providers? We have incredible status within our communities. We don't use it very much, but we are a respected group of people. Everyone respects what physicians say. We are smart, we are thoughtful, we are usually not one political party or another. We care about our fellow human being. Our motive or our goal is a positive one, so with that comes status in the community, respect, and potential community leadership that I think we don't use. We are healers. Our job is to heal and to comfort and to improve the world around us—one patient at a time or one neighborhood at a time, but that is our job. We are educators. We are good at that. That is one of our skills. That is why we went into what we are doing. We are good at teaching others and bringing others along.

When we are in clinic, we don't really know whether patients are rich or poor. As long as they have insurance, we don't really know if they are the haves or the have nots, middle class, lower class, upper class. We in healthcare are actually a great equalizer of this. I believe that our responsibility as healthcare providers, not just here in the United States but all around the world, and not just oncologists but all types of healthcare providers, is to set the right tone, is to set the right standard for others to follow.

We are working on a project that is hosted at Georgetown but is partnered with a bunch of institutions around the world, a project that focuses on gastrointestinal cancer called GI CAN—GI Cancer Alliance Network. The whole point of this project is to try to develop new medicines and develop new cancer care standards that could be used by everyone around the world. It's not just for the very rich, not just the ones who are lucky enough to be on the inside of the wall, but for everyone. It's to provide a product, to provide something that is valuable for all and that all could afford.

I think that if we could keep a tone like that, if we could keep our eye on healing everyone, providing access for everyone, and being that community leader who speaks out for the care of our common man, it is possible that our status and our reputation can help bring some of this tension down. We can help our leaders who are struggling with this to figure out some ways to improve our world, to improve this gap between the haves and the have nots, particularly around healthcare. I think that if we do this and set this tone, improvement in other areas of our lives will follow.

I do not pretend to have any of the answers, but going forward, when you have the chance to speak up, when you have the chance to help others, particularly the have nots, whether it is by volunteering or donating money or educating, do it. Be a healer—not only for your patients in your community, but be a healer for our world in what may be one of the most desperate crossroads that we have ever been in in our history.

John Marshall for Medscape.