The following is a summary of “Call of Duty – What are Physicians’ Obligations During Crises?” published in the October 2022 issue of Emergency Medicine by Giwa et al.

Society trusts doctors with the honor and burden of providing medical care to their patients. Because of the weight of these duties, they must maintain professional competence as established by their peers and enforced by professional organizations or government agencies. However, ethical principles are tested in times of societal crisis, including the fiduciary requirement that physicians place the interests of their patients above their own.

Medical, meteorological, and political disasters, among others, are perennial stresses on society. First responders and medical staff may put themselves in harm’s way to treat patients, but their efforts will mitigate losses that could otherwise reduce the population’s standard of living and length of life. Unfortunately, these deeds may be taken for granted or considered obligatory by those who operate in the medical field at the bedside. 

Clearly delineating the amount of risk judged acceptable by the physician and by society is important since the obligations of physicians to their patients and society may differ from those of individuals outside the medical field. In times of crisis, doctors must do their jobs regardless of the tension between normative and descriptive ethics. To fulfill this obligation, government entities and healthcare facilities must work together to reduce the dangers faced by people who respond to emergencies.