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What Happened During the “Days of Shame”?

One of the oldest binding documents in human history is the Hippocratic oath. This is held sacred by all physicians; to treat the ill to the best of their ability, to preserve patient privacy, to teach medicine to the next generation, and most of all, to not harm. But what happens when doctors throw that out the window because of discrimination?

In 1934, 75 physicians from Montreal went on strike because a Catholic hospital hired a Jewish doctor. They chose to walk out and deprive their patients of proper care because they did not want to work with a Jew.

Who Was The Jewish Doctor in Question?

Dr. Sam Rabinovitch graduated at the top of his class at the Université de Montréal. He was also from a family of doctors – 4 of his older brothers were already physicians.

In terms of qualifications, without a doubt, Rabinovitch was perfect for the job. The only problem was his religion. Rabinovitch was a Jew and would’ve been the first Jew to hold a staff position at a French-Canadian Catholic hospital.

Needless to say, discrimination against Jews was sky high at this point, which leads to the protest of 75 doctors which is now known as the Days of Shame. (Source: US National Library of Medicine)

When Did the Protest Start?

The strike started on June 15, 1934, and lasted for four days. The hospital’s administration did not budge; they let Rabinovitch go to work as scheduled. By midnight of June 14, 1934, the day before he was appointed staff, all Notre Dame interns left and refused to provide any care to anyone, including the emergency patients that were already in.

By June 17, the strike had expanded to include other hospitals in Montreal, and nurses were also threatening to join the protest if Rabinovitch was not fired.

There was even a threat of moving the protest up to a general boycott of all Jewish people, including businesses and their entire community. (Source: US National Library of Medicine)

How Did the Protest End?

On June 18, 1934, Rabinovitch filed his resignation from Notre Dame.

In view of the serious and dangerous conditions to which the patients of the Notre-Dame and other hospitals have been exposed because of the refusal of a number of the interns to take orders from their superiors, and because of the embarrassment of the various boards of Notre-Dame and other hospitals, I feel it my duty as a physician to tender my resignation as intern to your hospital.

Dr. Sam Rabinovitch

Within hours of his resignation, the interns went back to work. The hospitals threatened to fire them but allowed them to continue anyway.

Rabinovitch felt that it was the best decision at the time. Patients deserved the best care, and they were not getting any because of the protest.

Where is Dr. Sam Rabinovitch Now?

Rabinovitch left Montreal. The administration of Notre Dame set an internship for him at St. Louis, where he specialized in internal medicine.

Despite the controversy, he made his way through and became one of the oldest practicing doctors in Canada.

The patients cared more about my reputation for being a caring and honest doctor than they did about my religion.

Dr. Sam Rabinovitch

(Source: US National Library of Medicine)

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