COVID-19 Burn Out Causing More Resident Physicians to Unionize, Part 2
By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law
This is part two of a blog series focusing on the effects of COVID burnout in healthcare professionals. Don’t forget to read part one.
The Problem With Residents’ Working Conditions Existed Long Before the Pandemic.
It’s common for resident physicians to work long hours for relatively low pay. They have little or no ability to determine their schedule and are generally locked into positions for up to seven years. Certainly, medical residents have voiced concerns about their work lives long before the pandemic. Some describe years of grueling schedules, sometimes with 24-hour shifts, including 80-hour workweeks. “Residents were always working crazy hours, then the stress of the pandemic hit them really hard,” John August, a director at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, is quoted as having said.
To learn more about issues that affect residents and fellow physicians, click here to visit the American Medical Association (AMA) Resident and Fellow Section.
Benefits & Drawbacks of Unionizing.
Medical residents looking to unionize often cite such basics as pay and working conditions as top reasons. For reference, first-year residents earned just under $60,000 on average in 2021, according to a survey done by AAMC. At 80 hours a week, one could calculate that residents could very well be earning less than the minimum wage, according to the AAMC data.
Those unionizing typically say wages are too low, especially given residents’ workload, student loan debt, and the rising cost of living.
Additionally, some residents say that unions can have upsides for hospitals and can also help enhance patient care. Patients deserve physicians who aren’t exhausted and preoccupied with the stress of finances. “To take good care of others, we need to be able to care for ourselves. We love being residents and caring for patients. But we can’t do that well if we neglect ourselves,” said a University of Vermont Medical Center resident.
On the other hand, residents unionizing is not without its potential drawbacks. For hospitals, money is an issue. Although federal funding helps pay residents’ salaries, most training expenses come from hospitals. In many instances, because of the pandemic, those funds are now depleted, said Janis Orlowski, MD, AAMC chief health care officer.
Some worry that unionizing can undermine the connections between residents and the physicians who train them. Another primary concern for hospitals is the threat of a strike; although rare, it has been decades since the last one. Many residents also worry that unionizing could undermine patients’ and communities’ trust in them.
Happy Residents, Happy Patients.
For some healthcare workers, the COVID-19 pandemic solidified the importance of a union. Residents have been on the front lines of care but were not always the first to access PPE or lifesaving vaccines. Others are simply looking for acknowledgment of the sacrifices they’ve made while caring for the country’s most vulnerable patients.
However, one thing remains clear; both sides agree that the goal is to become a good physician and get taken care of in the process.
For more information on residency programs, click here to watch one of our video blogs, and make sure to check out our YouTube page.
Contact Experienced Health Law Attorneys Representing Residents, Fellows, and Medical Students.
The Health Law Firm routinely represents resident physicians, fellows and students, including medical students, dental students, nursing students, pharmacy students, and other healthcare professional students, who have legal problems with their schools or programs. We also represent students, residents, and fellows in investigations, academic probation and suspensions, disciplinary hearings, clinical competence committee (CCC) hearings, and appeals of adverse actions taken against them. The Health Law Firm’s attorneys include those who are board-certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law as well as licensed health professionals who are also attorneys.
To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or Toll-Free (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.
Weiner, Stacey. “Thousands of medical residents are unionizing. Here’s what that means for doctors, hospitals, and the patients they serve.” AAMC News. (June 7, 2022). Web.
Kwon, Sarah. “Burned out by COVID and 80-hour workweeks, resident physicians unionize.” Kaiser Health News. (May 27, 2022). Web.
Murphy, Brenden. “Why more resident physicians are looking to unionize.” AMA. (June 28, 2022). Web.
About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law is an attorney with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 or Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.
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