Should a university be allowed to bar a student from taking an exam for refusing the COVID-19 jab?

As a general principle, I’d say: NO.

Recently, however, I read that my own university was taken to task by the Higher Education Ministry for doing just that: barring a medical student from taking an exam because she was unvaccinated.

So, now that we have a bit more context, let’s return to the original question, shall we?

Should a university be allowed to bar a medical student from taking an exam for refusing the COVID-19 jab?

Here, I believe that the answer is: YES!

Just to be clear, I don’t now the exact circumstances leading to the abovementioned incident, and I actually agree that it is important to educate rather than coerce people into being vaccinated.

Nevertheless, this provides us with an excellent learning opportunity: how do we balance someone’s RIGHT with their RESPONSIBILITY to others?

With regards to a medical student who will inshaAllah become a doctor in the future, I think it is not unreasonable for society to expect a few things from that person. Some of my colleagues have already made this point, but I’d like to reiterate it using two examples: handwashing and sleep.

Handwashing

In his book ‘Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance’, Atul Gawande writes about the importance of hand hygiene and the difficulties in doing it properly in a busy hospital setting. But let’s take a step back and imagine a doctor who doesn’t even believe in all this ‘hand hygiene’ business.

Say for example that he or she doesn’t subscribe to Koch’s postulates and instead believes that all diseases are caused by ‘angin’ (literally: wind) imbalances. Clearly, washing one’s hands doesn’t do anything to remove ‘angin’ from the body. Everyone KNOWS you need to treat ‘angin’ with acupuncture, homeopathy, or traditional massage! (warning: sarcasm)

But are we seriously going to allow anyone who believes in that sort of thing to go anywhere near patients?

Of course not!

But, but…aren’t we impinging on that person’s right to become a doctor simply because his or her beliefs aren’t aligned with so-called ’modern medicine’? Damn you big pharma/Illuminati/<insert favourite bogeyman here>!

What people often forget to consider is that when you become a doctor, your rights to various things often have to make way for your responsibilities to your patient.

Sleep

Here’s another example: what if a doctor refuses to attend to an emergency because it will disrupt their sleep?

I know it sounds ridiculous ( yes it is!) but let’s say the doctor has read Matthew Walker’s book ‘Why We Sleep’ and correctly surmises that lack of sleep leads to all sorts of cardiovascular, cognitive, and immunological problems. As a matter of fact, he or she would be right; lack of sleep kills!

But, again, how long are we going to let this doctor practise if they continue to prioritise their RIGHT to sleep over their RESPONSIBILITY to their patient?

Not very long, I hope.

When it comes to COVID-19 and healthcare professionals, I think it is reasonable to expect that those looking after the most vulnerable members of our society should at least be vaccinated.

Vaccines have been proven to save lives; in other words, they work. Are they completely risk-free? Of course not, nothing is, not even plain water or oxygen!

Can anyone guarantee that they will never lead to complications in the future? Of course not, but then again, can you guarantee that you will be alive in the next second? Can anyone absolutely guarantee anything, really?

So here’s the bottom line: take the vaccine. Indeed, take whatever vaccine that is offered to you by the Government. They’re not all exactly alike (different mechanisms, different clinical trial results etc) but ALL the approved vaccines have been shown to be safe and effective at preventing serious illness and death in COVID-19.

Finally, let me conclude by saying this:

Being a doctor IS a noble profession. For many people, it’s a noble profession not because you get the title ‘Dr’ in front of your name, or because you get to make loads of money (I’m still saving for my Aston Martin!), but because we make certain personal sacrifices in order to help OTHER people get better. If that means we don’t get to have as much freedom to demand our rights as the next person, so be it.

That is the price we pay for being part of this fraternity.

2 Comments

  1. Well said. I’m frustrated that people here in the USA fail to understand the importance of getting vaccinated to protect others, but I have more patience with them because I know that not everyone has a degree in biology like I do, and they may need help understanding basic epidemiology. However, I tend to feel less understanding towards the health care providers who insist in not getting inoculated, and they are many.

    1. Same here. I’m even more worried about healthcare professionals who not only refuse to be vaccinated (you can have valid reasons for that), but are actively anti-vaccine themselves.

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