Interns and residents who refused to acquiesce to their own unacceptable labor conditions or to the abuse of patients they witnessed in under-funded, understaffed and overburdened public institutions spearheaded the formation of POC. They organized a community-based struggle outside the restrictive labor laws that had been used against the progressive demands of earlier recognition fights on behalf of interns and residents.

These organizers learned the importance of bringing doctors together with nurses and other healthcare workers to fight for the common goal of insuring the highest professional standards in patient care.

POC member Lonnie Smith, M.D. speaking at a rally to save Tulare Regional Medical Center.

Doctors returning in the early 1980’s from visits to developing nations joined POC and brought their knowledge of the necessity to change the economic and political conditions in those countries in order to improve the provision of health care services and combat the spread of communicable diseases, high infant mortality rates and other preventable deaths. Physicians, working people and activists in those countries told the visiting doctors the best thing they could do to help was to go home and work to change the policies in the United States that helped to create those conditions. They also saw worsening health conditions in the U.S. due to those same policies.

POC offered those returning doctors a way to fight for the care people need, while organizing to contest the policies and practices of profit-driven insurance companies and abusive government agencies.

Throughout the 1980’s, millions of workers lost medical coverage as the U.S. shifted from a manufacturing to a service economy leaving people with largely non-union, part-time or temporary employment and no job benefits. At the same time, federal, state and county public health systems were defunded and policies of privatization, health care “rationing,” PPOs, and DRGs proliferated to the direct disadvantage of the profession and our patients. Public health took a beating and communicable diseases such as tuberculosis were on the rise.

By the end of 1985, after two years of meetings, mail-outs and phone contact with both private medical practitioners and physicians employed by agencies or institutions, POC had developed a base of over 250 members. POC members approved a strategy for further growth and development, which included an expanded benefit program, community outreach, an educational course series and a newsletter, New Diagnosis.

POC’s programs and activities in California and participation in national and international medical conferences have since attracted new members from around the country and the world from Harlem, New York to rural Tennessee to Argentina.