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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