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In Solidarity: Response to the University of Washington Resident Physician Strike

Last week, the resident physicians and fellows of the University of Washington collectively decided to walk off the job for a 15-minute “unity break” in protest of unacceptable working conditions and stalled contract negotiations.

On Twitter, a social media site that I frequent, many physicians are not in solidarity with the trainees at UW. They think that the goals of the “unity break” are not realistic and that the residents and fellows of UW should buckle down and grind through the grueling work, long hours, and pittance of a stipend for the sake of patient care.

Let’s be clear: The residents and fellows of UW went on strike last week for equitable childcare, fair wages, the ability to afford rent in an incredibly expensive city, and reliable after-hours transportation to prevent sleep-deprived trainees from driving home after being on-duty for 28 hours or more.

Our field is rotten to the core. We take on an extreme amount of debt (the average cost for public medical school students is $243,902; for private school students, $322,767) while being verbally abused and harassed by faculty in school and spending our prime locked into training programs where we are often forced to work beyond 80 hours a week with seldom a weekend off for three to seven years. All of this for barely minimum wage.

Older physicians will gaslight those in training by saying the abuse we face is for some higher purpose, and if you disagree, you somehow disrespect your patients, your profession and yourself.

My friends and colleagues in the private sector would be the first to tell you that this is utter nonsense. Only in medicine are we taught to normalize abuse to such a degree. And it’s killing us. Every day we lose a physician to suicide, at a rate of 28 to 40 per 100,000, or more than double that of the general population. Our profession has created an environment that has caused depression and suicidal ideation to run rampant among students and trainees.

The residents and fellows of UW are fighting for what they deserve. The saddest part of it all is that because medicine has internalized the toxic “I did it, so you should too” mentality, our very own can be some of the biggest opponents of physician health and wellness. Residents and fellows face so much suffocating oppression that taking 15 minutes to breathe in peaceful, organized protest is a fantastic achievement.

As physicians, our ultimate duty is to the health and well-being of our patients, but we cannot take care of patients if we don’t take care of our most basic needs. We must stand with the residents and fellows of UW in their courageous fight to stand up for what is right.

Image credit: UWHA on Crosscut

Michael McClurkin, MD, MPP Michael McClurkin, MD, MPP (1 Posts)

Resident Physician Contributing Writer

Yale School of Medicine

Michael McClurkin is a PGY-1 Psychiatry resident with the Yale School of Medicine Psychiatry Residency Program. His interests include public psychiatry, addiction psychiatry and health policy. In his free time, he loves spending time with his significant other, running, reading manga and drinking freshly ground coffee.