As the COVID-19 pandemic stretched into the late spring months, the ACGME made the recommendation to hold all residency and fellowship recruitment for the 2021 Match cycle virtually. At University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center, preparations began.
The pandemic points to an important lesson: a rejection of traditional leadership structures, at least those that feed into a profit-based medical system, may be necessary in order to create a different world. The union provides such a framework, vesting power in a collective of voices. But in order to succeed at the level of a union, physicians need to let their voices join that collective — they cannot expect a delegate or representative alone to do the entire job, just as we might expect a program director to guide us in the right direction.
As a program director, I am worried about my trainees who are already challenged with the usual stressors of graduate medical education (GME). This new illness is threatening to upend and disrupt our program in ways that I cannot even imagine, and therefore cannot plan for.
Residency is a challenging time plagued by long hours, overwhelming clinical service loads, escalating documentation requirements, and inadequate resources for support. A recently published study in the New England Journal of Medicine illustrates how mistreatment in the training environment takes an additional toll on medical trainees.
We are fighting for UW to come up to the national standard in their treatment of residents; we’re not asking for the impossible. Residents deserve to work in humane and livable conditions.
On September 25, we participated in a 15-minute unity break (effectively a walk-out) with over 450 residents and fellows at the University of Washington in protest of UW’s dismal contract proposals during our negotiations. It was led by the University of Washington Housestaff Association (UWHA), one of the few unions of resident doctors in the United States.
During residency, do you ever stop to think why you wanted to become a doctor? What were your reasons? I wish I could remember mine. I could have pursued so many other careers. I used to be a director of a non-profit organization, helping individuals from low socioeconomic backgrounds attain technical skills. I do not recall being at my current level of mental, emotional and physical dysfunctionality while working that job.
One evening, overwhelmed by burnout, I drafted a letter of resignation to my program director and saved it on my computer. The next morning, I deleted the email without sending it.