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COVID-19 and the orthopaedic surgeon: who gets redeployed?
  1. Rachel S Bronheim1,
  2. Casey Jo Humbyrd1,2,3
  1. 1 Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
  2. 2 Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Berman Institute of Bioethics The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
  3. 3 Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Penn Medicine, Philadelphia, PA, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Casey Jo Humbyrd, The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD 21224, USA; casey.humbyrd{at}


The COVID-19 pandemic has increased demand for physicians, leading to widespread redeployment of specialty physicians to care for patients with COVID-19. These redeployments highlight an important question: How do physicians balance competing obligations to their own health, their own patients, and society during a public health crisis? How can physicians, specifically subspecialists, navigate this tension? In this article, we analyse a clinical scenario in which an orthopaedic sports surgeon is redeployed to care for patients with COVID-19. This case raises questions about physicians’ obligations to their own patients compared with society at large, the relative value of specialty physicians during a global pandemic, and the ethical permissibility of compulsory redeployment. Using the orthopaedic surgery specialty as a model, we build a redeployment framework for surgical specialists that is both ethical and equitable. We argue that although orthopaedic surgeons have a moral obligation to participate in physician redeployment schemes, the scope of this obligation is limited and contingent on the following conditions: (1) the number of local COVID-19 cases is high; (2) obligations to their own patients or orthopaedic patients requiring urgent or emergency care have been fulfilled; (3) their value as physicians exceeds their value as specialists because of the pandemic climate; (4) voluntary redeployments are exhausted before compulsory redeployments are implemented; and (5) redeployment would not put the physicians at unreasonable risk of harm.

  • COVID-19
  • ethics
  • health personnel
  • health workforce

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Data availability statement

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  • Contributors RB and CH conceived the concept of this manuscript. RB drafted the manuscript. CH provided critical review of the manuscript. CH is the guarantor of this manuscript.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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