Dozens of resident physicians at the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque took a “unity break” on Wednesday to call for a fair contract.
“I wanted to help bridge that gap and I think a lot of people came to New Mexico and UNM specifically to do those things,” Dr. Rupali Gautam, a resident physician, said. “But it’s been really disheartening and frustrating sitting in these bargaining sessions (with UNM) week after week and hearing them say that they won’t pay us a fair wage.”
Gautam is a first-year resident physician at UNMH. She came to New Mexico from Texas to help marginalized communities that have barriers to health care.
Resident physicians are doctors who have graduated from medical school and are undergoing graduate medical education in hospitals. These residencies can last anywhere from three to seven years depending on the doctor’s specialty.
Residents provide direct care to patients including diagnosing, managing and treating health issues with supervision from an attending physician.
The bargaining sessions between the residents and the hospital have lasted about seven months with minimal headway, Gautam said.
This is why Gautam and other residents at UNMH held what they called a “unity break” at noon Oct. 4.
“People in health care do this job because we love what we do. We care about patients. It’s not like we’re asking for this stuff because we are trying to get more time away from patient care, but it’s in order to take care of our own well being,” Gautam told the NM Political Report Tuesday.
Gautam and other residents are part of the staff union Committee of Interns and Residents which has been representing them during the negotiations. CIR is a part of the Service Employees International Union.
Dr. Effie Berry, another UNMH resident and CIR member, spoke at the unity break.
Berry said the resident retention rate at UNMH is 20 percent which is below the national average
The nation resident retention rate is is 54.6 percent, according to the National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine.
The reason behind this retention issue has several parts, those protesting said.
“Lack of competitive benefits and adversarial atmosphere we encountered from UNM leadership (are the reasons),” Berry said.
The retention issue was referenced by Berry and other CIR members and supporters as the reason for the physician shortage in New Mexico.
Some patients have to wait up to a year for a doctor’s appointment, Berry said.
“To provide exceptional care, we must prioritize self care, but with crushing childcare costs, skyrocketing housing expenses, staggering student debt and 80 hour weeks with little time off. It’s nearly impossible to care for our patients without sacrificing our own well-being,” Berry said.
A resident’s starting salary is $59,456 and goes up to $61,384 for the second year and up to $74,288 for the seventh year, if the resident’s program requires it.
The pay raise issues come from UNM staff recently receiving seven percent raises from the university and another five percent raise from state funding. Residents did not get either of those raises.
The CIR initially asked for a 12 percent raise and UNM said they could afford to give them two percent raises.
UNM Hospital spokesman Chris Ramirez told NM Political Report that the residents are not UNMH employees, as they are enrollees in the UNM School of Medicine’s Graduate Medical Education program and are therefore trainees.
“While organizers representing the CIR may make statements about changes they would like to see, it’s important our community knows that leadership at the UNM School of Medicine and UNM Hospital have been involved in active dialogue with this union for some time and remain committed to ongoing conversations to ensure all trainees feel supported, valued, and prepared for the next step in their health care careers,” Ramirez said in an emailed statement about the event.
UNM is the largest teaching hospital in the state, with 700 resident physicians, 94 percent of the residents in the state.
The doctors asked for living wages, vacation benefits that are similar to other regional residency programs and diversity and stronger non-discrimination and diversity language in their contracts.
Ramirez said UNM cannot make comments about the contract negotiations due to it being an ongoing dialogue between UNM and CIR.