The Committee of Interns and Residents/SEIU Healthcare (CIR) hit the ground running in 2015! Within the first month of the year, our Southern California region welcomed 37 resident-physicians from St Mary Medical Center in Long Beach. It is thrilling to be a part of a union that continues to grow and thrive in spite of the many challenges facing unions in our country today, particularly a union largely comprised of young and notoriously busy healthcare professionals.
In fact, the very nature of our work can make it difficult to organize ourselves. While this period in our career resembles an apprenticeship – we have our medical degrees but are required to spend three to seven years depending on the specialty under the supervision of attending physicians – we are the frontline providers of healthcare across the country. My colleagues and I work hard and over long hours, often for grueling 24 hour shifts. This is why we’re called “residents” or “housestaff”; while in residency, the hospital is where we spend the majority of our time. The level of focus and dedication it takes to make it through residency creates a culture where residents put their own needs last and may not feel that they have the time or energy to be part of a union, regardless of the benefits.
That said, having a voice at our hospital is something many residents hunger for. At the end of the (very long) day, we all care about our patients and want to improve the delivery of healthcare. Many generations of resident-physicians before us were not empowered to share their valuable perspective with hospital decision-makers and today many residents without the power of their union continue to follow this unfortunate pattern. Speaking from personal experience, CIR is changing this culture for the better. At my hospital, Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance, my colleagues and I have had the chance to impact hospital policy in countless ways including making suggestions on how to develop our new electronic health records system, alerting administrators about medical equipment that needs to be replaced or updated, and improving safety policies for staff and patients. As the field of medicine consistently evolves, it’s vital for our hospitals to hear from the people who actually take care of patients.
It’s incredibly satisfying to see the resident-physicians at St Mary Medical Center taking the first step to creating a similar culture at their hospital. Part of our continued learning and growth as physicians includes frequently working with our peers from other institutions and healthcare systems during rotations off-site. As a Chief Resident for the Family Medicine program at Harbor-UCLA, I’ve had the opportunity to not only meet but also work alongside the dedicated resident-physicians from St Mary Medical Center. Like many of their colleagues in CIR across the country, they came together seeking improvements that will strengthen their residency program and provide them the tools they need in order to serve their patients.
These housestaff have demonstrated commitment both to their patients as well their fellow staff. It’s clear that they want to partner with the hospital to adapt to the shifting demands in healthcare. I’m so proud to say that they can now count on the support of 13,000 CIR members around the country who hold similar values and want to see our hospitals thrive.