No draft for doctors, Pentagon says

The AMA has been reassured that there is no need for any call-up of additional medical personnel.

By Damon Adams — Posted Nov. 8, 2004

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Physicians don't need to worry about being drafted. The military health system is ready and capable of handling a national emergency, according to a Pentagon official.

"We have incredible capacity, so we don't see the need for any call-up of additional medical personnel," said William Winkenwerder Jr., MD, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs.

Dr. Winkenwerder made the statement to reporters in response to an Oct. 19 article in The New York Times reporting that the Selective Service System had updated its contingency plans for a draft of civilian health care workers. A 1987 law requires the plan.

The article said the Selective Service would deliver 36,000 health care specialists to the U.S. Dept. of Defense if and when a special-skills draft was activated.

But Dr. Winkenwerder said the military has 130,000 full-time physicians, nurses, medics and other health workers. Thousands more are in the reserves, he said.

"The military health system today is working remarkably well. It would perform very effectively in the event of a national catastrophic event, even a large one," Dr. Winkenwerder said.

Selective Service spokesman Richard Flahavan said the contingency plans get updated periodically.

He said the plan is on the shelf and that doctors should not be concerned about a draft.

"Basically, don't worry about it. This plan has been around for years. It's there as kind of a back-up plan," Flahavan said. "Regardless of what you read and see, there isn't going to be a draft."

Dr. Winkenwerder wants medical organizations to know that doctors and others are not facing a draft. He said he had contacted the AMA to provide information on the issue.

AMA Executive Vice President Michael D. Maves, MD, said he spoke with Dr. Winkenwerder and was reassured that physicians would not be drafted.

"He said we don't need a draft and we haven't asked for a draft," Dr. Maves said.

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