You can, however, just stay home. You might get fired, but you won’t lose your license or get frog-marched back to the hospital. In that way, medicine differs from the most prominent public profession, the officer class of the military. But it shouldn’t. Medical professionals, like military professionals, should be bound to serve in pandemics, at personal risk, on penalty of expulsion from the profession. We should be able to draft doctors.

The system would be simple. To become a doctor, you would join a professional guild and incur an obligation of service, in cases of public-health emergencies. If you left your post, you would lose your medical license. (Exceptions would apply: doctors who are immunocompromised or elderly, say, or whose family situations would mean undue hardship.)

Alex Kon, a physician and bioethicist, says that until about a hundred years ago, doctors regularly fled epidemics. Only since then, after a quasi-military ethos of not abandoning one’s post penetrated the medical profession, did expectations change. Now there is an unwritten “covenant,” Kon says, according to which doctors hold their positions, and society is supposed to reciprocate by equipping them and practicing social distancing (for example) to keep their hospitals from being swamped.