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The sweeping allegation of corruption against doctors in Aamir Khan’s talk show was something that was waiting to happen. Too many people believe that a good number of doctors are out to get their money, by hook or crook! Clearly the show itself was one-sided: there are a large number of doctors that are not corrupt; even where individual cases of alleged wrong practice was projected on the show, the accused were given no chance to defend themselves. Aamir was judge, jury and the executioner. Despite this, the criticism of the manner of the show is not to say that all doctors are honest.

This piece is not about whether or not doctors are corrupt. This is not even about why they are forced to be corrupt. A chain email is already doing that job of condemning ‘Satyameva Jayate’, and extolling the greatness of doctors toiling under adverse educational, vocational and financial circumstances. I am just examining how some doctors end up indulging in malpractices and dishonesty in their professional lives.

Most of the doctors I know are personally fine people. There is far less lying, adultery, cheating, scandals and financial scams involving doctors than say, film actors! Yet, like any government clerks, private IT managers and bankers, some doctors are unscrupulous in their work.

Root cause analyses will lead us to two factors: Comparatively poorer remunerations across the nation and across private or government sectors are given to doctors when you consider their age, qualification and training. A 30 year old MD who puts in six and a half years in graduation and another three years in post graduation is offered thirty thousand rupees (less that $600) a month in private hospitals. Government service provides even less! A ‘software engineer’ even without a post graduation, a CA who is much younger earns at least twice this amount in Metros at start up. A professor in the prestigious AIIMS who teaches life-saving skills to younger doctors while actually treating Governors and Supreme Court Judges would barely receive a 6 figure salary at retirement. Compare this with the professors at IIMs and you will realize, similar skills do not yield similar remunerations.

In smaller towns and villages the situation is worse. If an MBBS doctor charges Rs five for a consultation (very frequent in rural Karnataka), imagine the number of patients he has to see just to bring home groceries worth Rs 4000 a month! The examples can actually go on, but the fundamental issue is doctors feel, and often justifiably so, that they are underpaid, while the world around them seems to have a great time!

Of course, that you have less money is no excuse for turning to burglary or kickbacks. But, on the other hand, when has affluence prevented greed & gluttony? All around us, we see people who are illegally wealthy, yet continuing to indulge profiteering. The mining scam in Karnataka or the 2G controversy are huge examples. This brings us to the other fundamental point:

Some doctors are corrupt, not just because they are underpaid, but corruptibility is in the grain of our society. I would really like to go back in time and see if during the time of Lord Rama, people in India were honest and just. But at least, during my own lifetime – I’m 45 now – I haven’t seen many Indians around me that are honest or transparent! Our society seems to be full of people whose only aim is climbing up the social and financial ladders at any cost. Morality and honesty are sacrificed at the altar of selfish personal gain. How, then, do you expect the doctors alone to be clad in pure white? Have you ever waited at midnight for the traffic lights to turn green, when all around you, others are driving through the red light, just because there are no cops? How long can you hold on to your principles there, without looking like a moron who is not ‘smart’?

After all, when a doctor finishes medical school, he doesn’t come out trained in malpractice. It is the community around him that urges him to issue a bogus medical certificate, offer kickbacks for referring tests to a laboratory and even abort a female foetus! So the society reaps as it sows. In fact, it is a testimony to the doctor community’s integrity that only a few among them succumb to these temptations!

It is very fine for people like Aamir Khan to want doctors to put patients before themselves, others before their own families and to feel that doctors must serve and not think of money! But doctors too live in the same society which demands bribes and kickbacks. No registrar gives a discount to the doctor on the bribe amount for registering a property! Shows like Satyameva Jayate appeal to the viewer by ‘sensational’ expose’s but fail to address more fundamental issues. If you look close enough, you realize that when it comes to the moral fabric of the society, it is only Mithyameva Jayate! Given the size of that problem, it is well nigh impossible for medical practice to totally rid of dishonesty and corruption. So, don’t expect this problem to go away. It will only change with society. Or Armageddon! Also be thankful that despite so much pressure to be otherwise, a large majority of doctors are actually honest and incorrupt!



  1. Very thought-provoking post!
    I read an article about the brain drain of doctors in Africa in the NEJM a few years ago.Interestingly it was titled something like- I want my plasma TV too. It talked about how most doctors leave their home countries for the US, Canada or Europe because of the poor job/career prospects , the fact that they cannot hope for a better remuneration or a more comfortable future for their families if they stay on.Africa too culturally has the same problem it seems that we do- the God complex- a doctor is supposed to be like God, and of course God does not need a good home, school or living conditions for his/her children, the joy of being able to serve a whole lot of patients must definitely be greater than the desire to provide a decent life to one’s family.
    Your point about rural doctors is so well-taken, Venkatesh. I met a number of wonderful doctors in rural Maharashtra during my one year posting.Some of them were posted in places where their children would have no hope of a decent education. One might say that all the kids in that village had the same education options.BUt what kind of a choice are we leaving those good doctors who are willing to serve in our villages- one where their own children could not possibly dream of becoming doctors themselves or one where they could never hope to be a normal family with their doctor parent around them if they wanted to achieve more.Its not as if these doctors made as much money also.No wonder then that you find people looking for ways around the system. A society which chooses to ignore the service of the good people does so at its own peril and the moral corruption that we witness in some of our fraternity today is a by-product of this convenient idealism attached to the practise of medicine

  2. i agree wid d notion’mithyameva jayathe’for d presnt i wish it turns to’sathyameva jayathe’ soonr dan latr,though v wont hv a chanz to liv in such a era..whn it starz.for nw,gud ppl shd only dream of ramraajya..alyk gandhi!
    in my opinion,v mst strongly condemn d corrpt/dishonest ppl,irrespective of d field dey work in,without any prejudice.theres no point in justifying such actz by smart anologies r by hving soft cornr for d same only aggrvtz d prrestont conditionz of d society.tolerating such factz iz deffntly not worth in long run,atleast for d nxt generationz.soo itz tym for introspection..for evryone.. thanku for readin dis commnt!.tc..

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