Resident: Hospitals pay young docs unfair wages

Hospitals treat resident physicians as a revenue source and depress wages for the doctors-in-training, Jacob Sunshine writes in an opinion piece published on Slate.

Today, first-year residents make less money than residents in 1974, despite rising costs of living, writes Sunshine, president of the University of Washington Housestaff Association and second-year anesthesiology resident, citing a recent article published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Resident compensation, in inflation-adjusted terms, has remained unchanged for about 40 years, and resident contracts are nearly identical in compensation for the three to nine years of post-medical school training, he writes.

Hospitals share data and use it to set wages and minimize competition, supported by laws that exempt teaching hospitals from antitrust litigation, Sunshine says. These policies mean hospitals can use residents, who are unable to negotiate their employment contracts, as a significant revenue source, much like colleges treat their athletes.

Sunshine and fellow residents in Seattle want to form a bargaining unit to ask for wages that match the average $215,000 debt burden recent medical school graduates face, and help pay for necessary child care when at least one parent works an average of 80 hours a week, according to the article.

The financial burden of low wages discourages residents from careers in lower-paid specialties and primary care, the piece argues, and changing family roles and financial realities over the past 40 years mean compensation needs to reflect the current living situation. Collective bargaining may be the only solution residents have, an option all hospital residents should consider, Sunshine writes.

To learn more:
- here's the piece
- read the NEJM article