The UW Housestaff Association (UWHA) and the Office of Graduate Medical Education resumed negotiations Monday regarding medical residents’ salary and benefits.
The negotiations were a continuation of previous efforts that ended in September after UWHA refused to continue. The administration has enlisted the Public Employment Relations Commission, which granted UW residents the right to unionize, to participate in the new negotiations as a mediator.
The UWHA was formed last year after 75 percent of residents voted in favor of unionizing. Resident physicians, who are contracted to train at the UW for three to seven years, argue they are being paid too little to afford living in Seattle.
“Residents are the last group that will ever complain,” said Roni Prucz, vice president of UWHA. “But it has reached a point where our situation has become unlivable.”
The Seattle City Council recently displayed their support for UWHA by writing a letter to vice dean Byron Joyner. In the letter councilmember Mike O’Brien expressed concern about the low salary.
“Many of these physicians earn less than our city’s hourly minimum wage,” O’Brien wrote. “Some qualify for free (charity) care at the very hospitals in which they work.”
In a response letter to the city council, Joyner clarified that, “UW residents and fellows are currently paid between $53,268 and $69,792 per year, which is competitive with other academic medical centers in the United States.”
Joyner did not acknowledge that although pay at the UW is on par with the national average, the city of Seattle’s living costs are not.
Average rent is about 60 percent of a resident’s monthly salary. Other residency programs in expensive U.S. cities have begun to offer housing subsidies. For example, the University of California, San Francisco, offers its residents a $10,000 per year subsidy.
“[The administration] believes it is on par and competitive with institutions in other major U.S. cities,” said Amity Neumeister, assistant dean of graduate medical education. “UW has made many improvements over the years, such as increases in stipends and benefits.”
Neumeister also pointed out that the UW program is one of few residency programs that offers a 100 percent match on retirement funds.
Prucz acknowledges the salary issue is not solely the UW’s fault, but rather the result of an outdated residency system.
“UW has the chance to be at the forefront of change in the residency system instead of lagging behind it,” Prucz said.
Prucz went on to explain that the notion of future physicians being compensated for their work throughout their training is not true anymore. The cost of medical school leaves some residents hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, which they are unable to pay off until years past their residency, Prucz said.
He also emphasized the important work residents do and how much revenue it brings.
In the primer on UWHA’s website, the organization refers to a 2014 New England Journal of Medicine paper that found revenue generated by residents more than covered their salaries and all associated costs of their training.
There is some discrepancy over how much revenue residents bring to the UW.
“There is no current mechanism in place to measure this,” Neumeister said.
Neumeister explained that residents do not bill for their clinical services, but rather all the billing is through their attending physician. Prucz also acknowledged that it is difficult to measure because of the difference in skill level among the different years.
Prucz conceded that a first-year resident likely does not contribute as much as someone further along in their training. A recent paper in the Journal of Surgical Education confirms this, estimating financial contribution for each senior resident as $94,871.89 per year, compared to $70,656.33 per year for a first-year resident.
Both Neumeister and Prucz are hoping the new negotiations will successfully bring an end to the conflict.
“[The UW] highly values residents,” Neumeister said. “They are a core part of our mission and we are committed to coming to an agreement.”
Reach reporter Susana Machado at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @smacha1995