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It's Not Fair, Not Safe: An American Medic's Support of Junior Doctors and the NHS

15/02/2016 23:04 GMT | Updated 15/02/2017 10:12 GMT

Before moving to London in August, I couldn't conceive of anything close to the NHS. A structured, uniform service that trains highly competent doctors while providing healthcare for free. For everyone. Inconceivable. And yet, here I am as a first-year medical student, learning, observing, and participating firsthand in this incredible institution that indiscriminately treats anyone that walks through its doors. Here, when you are ill you are a person who needs healthcare, not a walking insurance card with a set deductible.

I have lived my entire life under the US healthcare system: a scheme of insurance companies, employer-selected health insurance plans, premiums, co-pays, and mounds of red tape for routine and prepaid medical reimbursements. I have dipped into savings to pay what my plan did not cover and doctors have changed my medications when my insurance company refused to pay. During the brief periods between jobs when I did not have insurance, I feared an accident could plunge me into tens of thousands of dollars of debt from medical bills. This preceded any thought of the actual bodily harm I might suffer. Has Jeremy Hunt ever experienced this?

The NHS, despite its troubles and flaws, embodies the core aspiration of modern social democracies: taking care of all of its people. And like any large entity, its greatest strength is its people. The doctors, nurses, and my fellow medics inspire me every day with their intellect, passion, and dedication to their patients. At St. George's we receive extensive training and guidance on what it means to be empathetic and how important it is to put the patient first. My classmates time and time again demonstrate that these concepts are a part of who we are. When we graduate and my British friends become junior doctors I have no doubt that the NHS will be in very good hands.

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Photo: Andrew Meyerson

Junior doctor training is an arduous road of sacrifice and incredible responsibility, an often thankless job, but a job that is done and done very well all over the country. Faced with contract disputes, they have impressed me with their grit and grace during a trying period of their education. Perpetually tired and away from their family and friends, the junior doctors still have the energy and conviction to convene out in the cold to fight for what they and those they care for deserve. It is truly a shame that they have been vilified and berated by their own government simply because they are standing up for their right to a fair contract and the safety of their patients.

As an American medical student living in London, I feel oddly fortunate to witness an unfortunate development unfold in the UK. The BMA, junior doctors, supporting consultants, medical students, other allied health professionals, came together multiple times to protest an attack on the dignity and welfare of its doctors in training, and ultimately the NHS. Despite many rounds of negotiations, here we are at the precipice of a government-imposed contract, and the current junior doctors and my fellow students are potentially faced with the difficult decision of accepting an unfair and dangerous arrangement or reevaluating their careers. While proud of my colleagues and teachers for standing up for what is right and just, I am equally horrified by Mr. Hunt's assault on his nation's primary caretakers.

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Photo: Andrew Meyerson

People have asked me "Why do you care? After med school you're not going to train here." Over the past six months, I've developed a love and respect for England that is rooted in the people I have met and the education I currently receive. My classmates, lecturers, nurses, and their patients have shown me what it means to give of yourself, to excel intellectually, but more importantly, in character and spirit. They have taught me that, although the workload is demanding and stakes are high, even as a medical student with limited responsibility I am still accountable to those I meet every day. The NHS makes it possible for us to grow and learn. Rather than worry about how our future patients will afford care, we focus on giving it.

Eventually, citizenship and residency will geographically separate me from England, but I will always stand in solidarity with my British counterparts out of a deep respect for them and the NHS. For me, the junior doctor contract dispute represents an assault on my colleagues and a healthcare system I could only dream of in the US. Not supporting junior doctors, current and future, would be akin to turning my back on the honourable, and tolerating inequity and irresponsibility.

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Photo: Andrew Meyerson

Many thanks to my classmate, Andrew Meyerson, for the photos! Follow him!! https://twitter.com/andrewmeyerson