Warning! Doctors May Have to Give Up Their Constitutional Rights

Did you know that when you become a doctor, you may have to give up your Constitutional rights? Well, I didn’t know either … until this happened …

My story starts with the publishing of my article, 6 Life Lessons from My (Almost) 4 Years of Medical School. When I posted 6 Life Lessons on my site, I also posted a copy on my Facebook account. Sure, I didn’t put medicine or my school in a favorable light. But that is my freedom … to express what I want. So I didn’t think twice about clicking on the “post” button.

Lo and behold, a few days after my Facebook post, I got a text message from a friend — a member of my class’ honor code society — warning me that I will get a mark of academic misconduct on my spotless academic record.

At first, I was taken back. Why am I being punished for posting on my personal Facebook account, and on my personal free time? I called up my friend as soon as possible.

Apparently, my Facebook “friends” (more like acquaintances) from medical school complained against me. My friend didn’t tell me their names, or the exact number of them. He just said “a lot” of people complained.

Since I didn’t want to be penalized and because my friend was brave enough to tell me what’s going on, I asked for his advice: What should I do? He recommended I take the post down. If I complied, there was a 99% chance I would not have to explain myself to the dean. I thought about it for 2 seconds and agreed to take down the post as soon as I got home.

Once I got home and did what I promised, I had an uneasy feeling that just would not go away. I took a 2 hour walk in the freezing cold to clear my head and think things through. The initial shock wore off and all I can feel was anger.

I have been bulled — threatened — for my speech!

I would have loved to speak to the dean and to face my accusers, if they weren’t hiding behind anonymity.

Defending My Freedom on Facebook

Two or three days later, I put up another post on Facebook:

A few days ago, I was at a friend’s house party. The hostess was a gorgeous, raven-haired woman. Raven loved to dress in clothing that was a bit more revealing than most would deem appropriate. (Think of a mini-mini-skirt.) At work, she dresses completely professionally. But after work, she dresses in a way that makes her feel good. It was her way of letting loose.

Most people there didn’t care what she wore. She was her party and her own home, so she could do whatever she wanted.

Or so she thought …

That night, it was a full house. Every couple minutes, someone would show up and join the fun. Everyone thought the party was great. There were so many people to mingle with.

A few people from her work showed up as well. Although they did not know Raven too well, they were bored and decided to attend. There are two things her party-going co-workers are known for:

1) They love to gossip. They always hung around the water cooler to talk about everyone else.

2) They are really into political correctness and their version of decency. Any little thing that differs from their viewpoints offends them. And when they are offended, you better watch out.

They are not Raven’s cup of tea, so she does not socialize with them at work or outside of work.

Once the co-workers caught sight of the hostess, they could not help but keep looking at her. Even when Raven would get lost in the crowd, they would sift through the sea of people to keep sight of her.

They talked about her among themselves:

“Oh my goodness, did you see the way she dressed?”

“What a tramp!”

“Ugh, who does she think she is?”

“She definitely should cover up.”

They were definitely offended.

The loquacious, politically-correct gang is not known for its bravery. Its members did not talk to Raven at all about how they really felt.

Nor is the gang known for its intelligence. When they felt offended, they could have easily left. But didn’t.

Although they did not want to leave the party, they had a nagging feeling that just would not go away. The only way to resolve their feeling was to get someone else to solve their problem. They decided to call the police. A few co-workers had connections to the police, and thus, persuaded the force to take baseless action.

Three hours into the party, there was a loud knock on the door. It was almost like someone is pounding at the entrance.

Raven opened the door. Two police officers stood at the entrance.

One asked, “Good evening, ma’am. Are you the owner of the house?”

Raven said, “I am.”

“There has been a complaint of indecent exposure.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Someone complained that you were exposing yourself to the public.”

“This is a mistake. I’ve been in my house the whole night.”

“I’m afraid you’re going to have to wrap up this party.”

“What? You can’t come to my house and tell me what to do. I’m not breaking any law. There was no indecent exposure.”

“If you don’t stop the party, you’ll be thrown into jail.”

“This is outrageous.”

“Sorry, ma’am. I’m just doing my job.”

What could she do, but to comply? She was right. But she certainly didn’t want to go to jail to prove she was right.

The party stopped. Everyone was sent home. There was no more party, just because a few people did not like how she dressed … in her own house … during her own party … on her own free time.

Are we in in 2014? No.

We went back thirty years. Welcome to 1984. Big Brother is watching you.

Since my writings are art, you can take the post literally or metaphorically. The anonymous complainers thought it was about them. And they did what they do best … complain.

This time, I did not get a warning from my friend about my new post. The dean asked to see me, and I was happy to do so. (Too bad the complainers were not there as well, to face me in person.)

First, we went through the pleasantries and then reviewed my academic record. It was spotless. All my evaluations were positive.

Next, we talked about the heart of the matter: my Facebook posts. She repeated what my friend told me, that there are “a lot” of complaints. Again, I didn’t get any names or the exact number of them. (To counter the  “a lot” of complaints argument — which is most likely a vocal minority — “a lot” of people found how Orwellian the whole situation was, including my classmates.) She then showed me a print out of my first post, which she has vigorously highlighted. I don’t remember her exact words, but they are something along the lines of her being concerned.

I told her I complied with the advice given and removed the first post. So what was the problem? She replied that once I put up my second post, people complained again. She thinks I am continuing a war against my anonymous classmates. I see it as defending my freedom of speech.

To go over 6 Life Lessons, someone had to save a copy of something I removed. If it was so offensive, why keep a copy of it? Because I was going to be punished, regardless of what I did.

In essence, I am being punished for not meeting some nebulous standard. Medical society calls it “professionalism.” I call it conformity. I am being singled out and punished because I refuse to back down and give up my rights so easily as other docile students.

(You wanna talk about being professional? Heck, the honor code society threatening people it disagrees with is unprofessional. Shoot first and ask questions later, huh? If it merely explained that some people in class were offended and nicely asked me to remove the post, I would have done so in a heartbeat, with no ill will.)

So what was the cause of all of this? I chose to exercise my freedom of speech. A few anonymous peers took it upon themselves to be the Facebook Gestapos. If they find anything they disagree with, even when it is within my full Constitutional rights, you will have to face the dean. So where do you draw the line?

Why just restrict freedom of speech? Why not restrict religion? Sexual orientation? Political affiliation? Heck, why not complain to the honor code society when one of your peers gets shit-faced from over-drinking after a rough exam? Drunkenness is certainly unprofessional.

As I was browsing Quora, I found a quote by President Harry Truman:

Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.

It is without a doubt that there is an aura of fear among medical students and doctors. The whole medical culture is a “source of terror.” Medical students are afraid to take risks (which sometimes means disobeying authorities — especially those who seek to punish you for exercising your rights). Doctors are afraid of just about everyone … from government to insurance companies to lawyers to employers to even patients. And in their frustration, they lash out on those on bottom of the totem pole.

Defending My Freedom in the Dean’s Office

Back to the meeting with the dean …

Her problem is only with the first post (the one I have already removed), and not the second one.

I defended myself saying I did nothing wrong:

  • I am merely exercising my freedom of speech.

  • I posted the article during my personal time, not during my time at the hospital.
  • I posted the article using my personal computer, not on the hospital’s computer.
  • I posted the article on my personal Facebook account. No one is forcing anyone to read it, especially when it is more than 1,000 words long. (Smart people stop reading if they don’t like what they’re reading.)
  • Where was the due process? A post on Facebook is not a sworn confession. What if the post is fiction? What if I am producing art? Does being a doctor mean I am restricted as an artist?

That was the extent of my defense in the office. I had lots more, but did not want to turn the meeting into a debate.

I could tell that she was not a fan of my posts. But she did not punish me either. She warned me that medical licensing board does not follow court laws when deciding who to license. A medical license is a privilege, not a right. I merely replied, “You’re right.” It is a fact that the licensing board doesn’t really follow any set rules. A group of people gets together to decide on what’s appropriate. I don’t condone its minimal oversight, but that’s reality.

The licensing board does not follow court laws. It can do pretty much whatever it pleases, and can sometimes overstep its boundaries. (See Do Not Punish Dr. Love for an example.) You even see a foreshadowing of this with the way the honor code society acted. Threaten first, and then ask questions later.

If you ever find yourself facing the medical board in the future, especially when you are right, How to Respond to Unwarranted Medical Board Complaints is an amazing journal article that teaches you how to fight back.

If I Lost My Medical License …

I have heard of the quote, “Give me liberty, or give me death!” But I have never heard of “Give me a medical license, or give me death!”

If I had to choose between the privilege of practicing medicine or my Constitutional rights, which will I choose? Definitely my right! Americans paid with their lives for these rights. So why would I cheapen their lives by trading my rights away for medical privilege?

Heck, if I knew being a doctor meant you will have to lose your freedom, I would have saved my time and money. Someone else can be the sucker.

Even if I lost my medical license, it really doesn’t hurt me any.

Sure I have a huge, six-figure loan. But that is taxpayers’ money, not mine. If I can’t make a living, I won’t repay my loan back. (Thank you, Income-Based Repayment.) Taking away my license screws over the taxpayers, not me.

A great deal of money, time, and various other resources are needed to train a doctor. But now, all these things will be wasted, if I cannot care for patients. Considering that I want to practice in an underserved area, taking away my license means more people will remain sick. Taking away my license screws over the patients, not me. (It doesn’t alleviate the shortage of doctors either.)

And since I can’t make a living, I won’t pay taxes. So instead of contributing to the coffers of the government for welfare, medical care, defense, and whatnot … I’ll have to get help from the government instead. So I go from a societal contributor to a societal taker. Taking away my license screws over the government, not me.

I don’t require much to be happy. Give me freedom, food, and a computer to write my thoughts … and I’ll be satisfied. I certainly don’t need a medical license to complete my life.

Practicing medicine is a privilege. On the other hand, it is a privilege for the patients, taxpayers, and government to have me as a doctor.

For more medical school stories, visit the About Alex section and look for “Blast from the Past (Stories of My Medical School Days).”

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