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The lab-coat rebellion

Illustration for article titled The lab-coat rebellion


Jorge Luis Borges said, “Destiny likes repetitions, variants, symmetries.” Fifty-six years ago, just as Gustavo Diaz Ordaz was about to wear the presidential sash(1), a group of medics, interns and residents, from the ISSSTE(2) Noviembre 20 Hospital did the unthinkable: A labor strike after years of enduring deplorable, inhumane working conditions. The medical staff movement was later joined by many associations, it was supported by twenty hospitals across the country’s interior(3) and 23 inside Mexico City, a historic show of solidarity. The demands were clear: “interns and residents demand an immediate solution to our problem.” We’re now in 2020 and history repeats itself.

Even though the medical staff movement in Mexico, after battling for a year, was brought down through punishment and censorship of the participating doctors, the lesson was clear for the corporate state: labcoats can revolt. More than fifty years have passed, and the legal standing of student doctors remains unchanged, if not more humiliating than ever. Repressed and despised, lacking a will to fight.

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According to a report by Medscape, a doctor’s salary in Mexico is up to 14 times lower than in the United States, 5 times less than in France, and three times less than in Brazil. The deterioration of working conditions for medical staff transcends the purely economic. Between 2014 and 2019 58 homicides were reported among doctors and nurses due to armed mugging, most inside their workplaces(4).

In early 2019, the revolutionary essence of medical staff movement in the 1960s resurfaced with the creation of the National Assembly of Resident Doctors: 8,000 residents from across different public hospitals striked. The demands, like in the past, were the same. They requested that their belated salary payments were finalized along with the six-year bonus that was withheld from them. The government’s response solved the salary payments and the senate announced a symbolic resolution seeking to improve working conditions.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, hundreds of doctors and nurses have protested PPE shortages as well as the omission of sanitary protocols by managers in their workplaces. The proof of this (the shortage and the backwardness of the healthcare system) has been under an attempted coverup. Proof of unprotected staff is shown through viral hotspots inside hospitals. By the end of phase 2, 9% of those infected by COVID-10 in Mexico were doctors, a percentage that is expected to increase, alongside mortality.

History dictates that every catastrophe brings along a revolution. The COVID-19 pandemic will demonstrate the setbacks in the collective psyche and societal structures that we applied on a daily basis. Reflections are necessary. We will rethink our ways of being, coexistence, and how to deal with upcoming disasters. Destiny likes repetition. A new rebellion of the labcoats is approaching, but the effort requires more energy, solidarity, and commitment.

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Carlos Armando Herrera

A 3rd-year resident specialized in psychiatry and member of the interinstitutional and mediative committee at the national assembly of resident doctors.

Guest writer at animal politico

(1): The presidential sash holds an important symbolic role in the Mexican government; passing it from one leader to another symbolizes the peaceful transition of power.

(2): ISSSTE or Social Security and Services Institute for State Workers is one of Mexico’s public healthcare and pension providers. ISSSTE is only for public sector workers and currently insures around twelve million people. ISSSTE was established by Diaz Ordas’ predecessor Adolfo Lopez Mateos. 

(3): “country’s interior” is a euphemism for any entity outside Mexico City. in the 1960s, the developmental differences between the capital city and the rest of the country were very significant.

(4): Due to the Covid-10 pandemic, medical staff have suffered discriminatory attacks due to fear that they’re infected with the disease. Medical staff have been attacked in the streets, asked out of their apartments, and even had thrown chlorine on them.

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