white hospital bed in a room
white hospital bed in a room

What have other unions achieved?

Anything that relates to wages, hours, or working conditions may be negotiated in a collective bargaining agreement.

Unions for housestaff at other hospitals have negotiated for extended parental leave, safer hour restrictions, and patient care funds, where the residents decide on how to allocate money in ways that best advance patient care. Through collective bargaining, housestaff working at hospitals in New York City and Los Angeles County have received millions in grants that went toward purchasing exam room supplies, portable ultrasounds, and educational materials.

Impact of unions on physician wellness and patient care

Unions have been found to increase quality of life and reduce burnout for members, which then results in improved patient care. Unions not only help members voice their ideas, but also provide resources to actually implement change. Physicians are unique in that they are typically altruistic in the pursuit of providing medical care to patients, and often work beyond acceptable conditions to cover gaps in the hospital, to do what's right for their patients. This sense of responsibility can be exploited and lead to serious mental and physical health issues, and downstream negative effects on patient care.

The process of unionizing can be a powerful way to strengthen and unify the physician voice that supports better patient care. In order to innovate and create positive change, you must challenge the status quo. Although medicine, often slow to respond to change, should not exclude itself.

We do not have to be at odds with the healthcare system. When we have a seat at the table, and a voice to advocate for our patients, we all win.

The American Medical Association (AMA) position:

The American Medical Association (AMA) "supports the rights of physicians to engage in collective bargaining", and even supports efforts to narrow the definition of supervisors so even more employed physicians are protected under the National Labor Relations Act (NRLA).

The AMA even facilitated forming a national labor organization, Physicians for Responsible Negotiation (PRN) to support the development and operation of local negotiating units for attending, resident and fellow physicians.

The AMA’s policies supporting a physician’s right to unionize are being achieved. While still very new, physician unions are growing and multiplying across the country.

The benefits of unionizing:

  • Collective Bargaining: In addition to the ability to negotiate a contract for the group, any significant change to working conditions must be agreed upon between the hospital and the physicians. This provides a structure for communication between administration and the union. Want every consult to be seen within 24 hours? We will need more staff. Want us to set up home visits for discharged patients? Let's figure out a business model. Being in a union gives us a seat at the table in decisions that affect how we treat our patients.

  • Job security: Without a union, physicians can be terminated simply for standing up to administration. Under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), employers need cause for termination. One of the greatest benefits of a union is that it protects the physician that is doing their job responsibly from being terminated without process. Additionally, you cannot be terminated for forming or participating in a union.

  • Professional support: Unions have legal counsel, research departments, publicity departments, and scores of people knowledgeable about healthcare law, labor law, etc. As physicians, we have benefited from the collective knowledge and experience of our peers and the union only provides more support and access to a diverse group of professionals. You will never have to go it alone.

  • Solidarity: The ability to speak with a single, strong voice. It is easy to isolate and intimidate a single employee. It is much more difficult to do so with a large unified group. This also aligns us with other unions in the country, and within the hospital (nurses).

a sticker on a pole on a city street
a sticker on a pole on a city street