Time To Stop Calling Healthcare Workers 'Heroes'
On Saturday July 25, The Sydney Morning Herald published an opinion piece by Dr. David Berger under the title Please stop calling healthcare workers ‘heroes’. It’s killing us. It was widely shared on social media, and for good reason. It's timely, highly relevant, and well worth a read—any discussion that could lead to a safer work environment for healthcare workers during COVID-19 is one worth having.
In the opinion piece, he addresses the glowing language employed by traditional and social media to praise healthcare workers in the midst of COVID-19. He looks past the good intentions of such language to point out the connotations—it's a wartime lexicon, 'saluting our heroes', 'the brave healthcare workers', 'on the front lines' of the pandemic.
While well-intentioned, this language implies a kind of noble sacrifice and normalises a high-risk workplace environment that would otherwise be intolerable.
"We are not soldiers. We are workers in what has suddenly become a very dangerous workplace, just like miners, farmers and steeplejacks have been for hundreds of years," he states in his article, adding "The military rhetoric in emotional news reports of healthcare worker deaths has normalised the notion that healthcare workers caring for sick patients will inevitably die of COVID-19 contracted while doing their duty, when the truth is that this doesn’t have to be normal at all."
Thus far, many hundreds of Australian healthcare workers have become infected; in Victoria, 1,500 healthcare workers are now in quarantine.
"From personal experience and communication with many other doctors in Australia, it is evident that state and federal bodies are paying lip service to healthcare worker safety. They ignore, silence and bully, while failing to re-engineer our healthcare system to protect both staff and patients from this unprecedented new threat," David states in his article.
Lamenting what he calls a "too little too late" approach to workplace infection control, David strongly suggests Australia follows China's example, with its far more stringent guidelines and higher levels of PPE for healthcare workers.
Dr David Berger is a primary care physician with advanced skills in emergency medicine and Indigenous health, and he has an inspiring track record of driving debate and stimulating change on issues such as global healthcare corruption and refugee rights.