Around the world, Ebola and other infectious diseases take the lives of mothers, fathers, sons and daughters … and place at risk those who care for them. This risk is known to all who choose medicine as their career. It is part of caring for the ill, and always has been.
“A healthcare provider has an ethical and professional duty to address a patient’s needs, as long as the patient’s diagnosis – or when the patient’s initial complaint, on the face of it – falls within the provider’s scope of practice. Refusing to do so is not consistent with the ethical principle of beneficence. “ Twardowski, et. al. RI Med Jl October, 2014
Around the world, physicians, nurses, and all healthcare workers willingly fulfill their duty to care for patients who are or might be ill with Ebola and other dangerous diseases, reflecting the altruism and compassion of those who choose medicine for their career.
However, the duty to care for these patients does not automatically extend to those who are learning medicine. Without the experience, context and well developed skills of established providers, trainees are potentially at greater personal risk.
When I operate on patients with HIV, Hepatitis, or any blood-borne pathogen, I take every precaution possible for myself and the staff who are scrubbed. I also take advantage of the “teachable moment” to discuss ethics and universal precautions with my trainees…. but I don’t allow medical students or junior residents to directly participate in the case. Likewise, I am sure that learners will not be allowed to provide direct care for patients known to be infected with Ebola or other dangerous diseases… or to travel to West Africa for clinical experiences while the epidemic is still present.
All of us in medicine honor those who provide care to the ill despite the risk …and we thank you for the example you are setting for those learning to heal. We hold our colleagues in Dallas, Atlanta, Africa and around the world in our thoughts as they work tirelessly to heal the sick and contain this terrible disease.