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.
- health personnel
- health workforce
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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.