Are Resident Strikes and Unions the Answer to Their Problems?

An ever-growing workload, inadequate staffing, and a lack of appropriate protection are just a few of the issues residents and other healthcare professionals deal with. In response, we have seen an upsurge in resident strikes for fair compensation and unionizing to protect their rights.

Residents are starting to question their worth and asking questions like, do we have the support we need, given the conditions we are in? But, are resident strikes and unions the answer? To get the perspectives of the people who made it through residency and those who are currently in it, we asked physicians and residents in the Figure 1 community for their thoughts. Here is what they had to say.

Should We Support the Cause?

When we asked our residents and physicians if they support medical residents unionizing, the results were quite interesting. Ninety-one percent of residents said yes, they support unionization, with 0% of residents saying they don’t support it, and the remaining 9% staying undecided. This is in comparison to only 41% of physicians being in support of unions, 55% being against unions, and the remaining 4% undecided. 

When we asked if residents should strike for better pay the majority of residents (90%) were in favor, with only 5% against, and 5% undecided. While the majority of physicians (62%) were still in favor of resident strikes, the split is much more even compared to residents, with 23% of physicians against and 15% undecided.

Overall, it seems medical residents definitely support the causes that their colleagues are undertaking, whereas more established physicians seem to have mixed feelings about the current cohort’s decisions.

What’s the Impact of Unions?

We asked the Figure 1 community what impact resident unionization would have on healthcare and while most HCPs believed it would be positive, there is still some hesitation from physicians. 

When asked how unionizing would affect patient care, 76% of residents believe there would be a positive impact, whereas only 5% believe it would cause a negative impact, and the remaining 19% claimed there would be no impact at all. Compare this to physicians, where 46% thought unions would negatively impact patient care, only 37% thought the impact would be positive, and 17% said no impact.  

When asked how unions would affect the relationship between residents and physicians, the results were the same. The majority of residents (64%) thought the relationship would improve, compared to the majority of physicians (49%) who believe unions would negatively impact the relationship. 

Overall, it seems residents firmly believe that unions will be beneficial across the board. While most physicians seem to be against unions, there is a more even split between them and many physicians see the merit of resident unions. One internal medicine physician stated, “I don’t see why not, a massively exploited population that [has] no representation because the older docs in power say ‘I suffered, you should too …’”

What’s the Impact of Resident Strikes?

We asked the Figure 1 community how resident strikes would impact the healthcare community and while the majority believe it would be positive, the results were rather mixed. The majority of residents (63%) said the strikes would have a highly or moderately positive impact on the healthcare community. And while only 13% thought striking would lead to negative impacts, nearly a quarter of residents didn’t see resident strikes as having any impact, positive nor negative.

When it comes to physicians, they feel similarly to residents. Half of physicians believe that striking will have a positive impact and of these physicians, more than half believe the impact will be highly positive. Where physicians differ is that 32% believe strikes will have a negative impact on the healthcare community, compared to the 13% of residents. But, there is still a significant amount (18%) of physicians who believe there will be no impact.

Old Residency vs. New

We also asked the Figure 1 community if they thought the residents of today have less support than the residents of previous generations. When we looked at the healthcare community as a whole, 40% of HCPs said residents today have less support, 36% said the support today is the same/better, and 24% remained unsure. 

However, when looking at residents and physicians specifically, the responses were not what we expected. Thirty-nine percent of residents feel they are more supported, outweighing the 34% who feel they are less supported. For physicians, 49% said residents today have more support than they did and 29% said residents today have less support.

Overall, it seems there is support for resident strikes and unions, however, the water is still murky regarding how it might affect healthcare. Whether you are in favor or against resident strikes and unions, one respondent posed a question everyone should be able to agree with, “Shouldn’t we always be achieving to make life better for the next generation?”

Published June 19, 2023

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