Doctors speak out

A doctor is considering leaving the medical field after being defamed on social media.

The doctor whose identity has been withheld for fear of further victimisation said to be hurled abusive languages not only on social media but also at the hospital had affected her work

She said after being threatened she feared for her life

“We have to deal with so much humiliation and embarrassment at the workplace as well as from social media posts which name and shame doctors and to the extent even post photos of doctors at work. It is not only the individual who suffers but also our family. Family members have called up asking what had happened. We are told by those in power that “this is part of the job and to keep our heads down and do our work diligently”, try to be as diplomatic as possible and, do not engage in arguments with such individuals.

“I do not feel safe in my workplace. I have had prescriptions and sick-sheets thrown at me (just because it wasn’t the medication they wanted or the duration for which they wanted the sick sheet) and I do not know when an individual is going to act on their threat and actually physically assault me.

“I have spent many hours crying and upset (and) this reduces my empathy to patients, reduces my motivation to show up to work every day. It takes away from my belief that to be a doctor is to be in a noble profession. It takes away my faith that we are a united front. For each time such an incident happens I stand alone and am blamed.”

Growing up she had dreams of following in the family tradition and joining the banking industry but when a cousin of hers fell ill that inspired her to join the health sector.

“Being in hospital so frequently to visit my cousin ignited the passion of medicine and that I would do my best to help others. Since I have joined the field I have had many seniors to look up to who give themselves tirelessly and so passionately to better medical services in Fiji and was the driving force to pursuing my interests in emergency care.

“FMA’s theme is to ‘make medicine safe’. And if the providers of medicine are not safe? Is it going to take the loss of a life to depression from work pressure to make changes? Or do we as doctors have to ‘suck it up’ and deal with this abuse at the hands of the public?”

Another doctor who wished to remain anonymous and has been in the medical field for three years said he felt “hopeless and embarrassed” after being defamed on social media.

“Medical practitioners make a lot of sacrifices. Once we chose this profession, we are committed to serving people. We do not have the luxury of having a leisurely life. I spend most of my time in the hospital. The day this event occurred, I stayed back in hospital for further three hours as I was in shock. I could not believe this had happened to me. We have heard or seen our colleagues going through similar events in the past and we hoped this wouldd not happen to us. The sheer hopeless and embarrassment I felt cannot not really be placed in words.

“In terms of my work since then, I have taken a day at a time handling work pressure and the stress of the events one day at a time to treat my patients with the best of my abilities and professionally.

“The FMA requests that the public refrains from defaming and victimising doctors on social media. The FMA will not hesitate to seek legal redress if an appropriate and acceptable threshold is crossed,” Fiji Medical Association president Ifereimi Waqainabete said.

Dr Waqainabete said they would not hesitate to take legal action on those that threaten and make derogatory comments about health professionals on social media.

He said they were concerned and disappointed at the defamation and victimisation of health professionals on social media.

He said some had received threats and abused verbally which affected their work.

He said some had felt intimidated that they had limited their outdoor activities and become suicidal.

As a result of these threats, abuse and in addition to work pressure, one doctor is believed to have committed suicide. While there is no confirmation whether the constant threats and abuse led to the alleged suicide, the FMA believes it can be a contributing factor.

“Doctors defamed are now depressed and this is not good for patient care (and) no it is unfair to be defamed given that doctors are bound by patient-doctor confidentiality so we cannot release specifics of cases in public domain in defence,” said Dr Waqainabete.

Dr Waqainabete added the medical fraternity welcomed criticism but not to the extent where they were threatened and further victimised on social media.

“There currently exists a pathway for the public to make formal complaints about the services provided in health facilities and also against health professionals. There is the health complaints pathway with a hotline. The public is encouraged to utilise this when it has concerns about doctors.

“There are many avenues for grievances to be heard;

“If the doctor has a problem then the Fiji Medical Council is where the complaint should be addressed.

If there is a health system problem like long waiting times or lack of medicines etc, than the health complaints line is the appropriate place.

“I am sure the Ministry of Health and even PM’s office would be happy to take complaints

“But doctors have to front the public every day and defamation of character will make them less confident and not in a good place mentally to serve the next patient that comes through the door,” said Dr Waqainabete

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