An article from the the Sacramental Bee, by Dr. Michael Wilkes, looks at the use of 'stimulants' and PEDs for physicians.
Now, doctors are also using these drugs – not to correct abnormalities but to enhance their abilities.
Advertisements for Provigil and other drugs promise that they will help doctors stay awake.
The practice of medicine requires long hours, constant learning and a high level of dedication. Physicians work at all hours of the day and night, making life-and-death decisions.
Don't patients benefit if doctors take pills that will help them stay awake during a long overnight shift in the emergency room or provide better concentration to a surgeon doing a 10-hour operation?
Dr. William Cheshire, writing in the journal Virtual Mentor, asserts that the field of medicine has traditionally drawn a line between treatment (to restore or preserve vital functions) and enhancement (to provide abilities that go beyond normal function).
If the practice of medicine has been devoted to treatment, does that preclude doctors from dealing with enhancement? Certainly in some areas, such as plastic surgery, enhancement – not treatment – is the rule.
In some nonmedical fields, enhancement might provide a competitive and selfish advantage – e.g., working longer hours to impress the boss or taking steroids to beat other athletes.
I have spoken with doctors who feel that enhancing pills help protect their patients and society. For example, they ask, what if two patients urgently need surgery? Without a drug to stay awake, the surgeon could perform just one surgery. With medication, he could operate on one patient and then the other.
Wait a minute, though. Do we want doctors operating after they have taken these pills?
I have colleagues who say these pills are no different than a couple of cups of coffee – just a bit stronger. Is that true? What happens when the pills wear off, and what about the side effects?
There is little or no data on how these drugs affect a doctor's performance.
Until we have more data, doctors should not be allowed to take these medicines when on duty.
If doctors are tired, they should sleep. If they can't concentrate, they should explore why. Medicating our physician to work longer, harder and with superhuman concentration is just not in society's interest – at least not without substantial research.
As we say, one of the largest challenges in the new science age of the 21st century comes in determining the ethics behind performance enhancement: how far, how much, how moral. This central question cuts across all ages, professions, and economic groups.