How physicians are combating workplace concerns

The issues driving workplace dissatisfaction among physicians are widely known and include heavy workloads, insufficient pay and understaffing. Amid these mounting concerns, more physicians across the country are turning to unions and labor action.

There have been more than 126 healthcare worker strikes since 2021, according to the University of Illinois and Cornell University's Labor Action Tracker. Recent physician strikes have led to changes including pay increases and better patient-to-staff ratios.

More than 150 physicians from NYC Health + Hospitals' Elmhurst Hospital in New York City went on strike in May after 10 months of negotiations with Mount Sinai, the health system that employs the physicians. 

Three days into the strike, union members and Mount Sinai reached a tentative agreement that included a $2,000 ratification bonus for physicians and an 18% wage increase over the next three years. 

Also in May, a potential strike involving more than 100 unionized resident physicians at Oakland, Calif.-based Highland Hospital was averted through good-faith negotiations with the union "from day one," according to the health system. The deal included a compensation increase of more than 20% over three years.

However, strikes are not the only way physicians are making their voices heard.

In October, around 400 physicians and 150 nurse practitioners and physician assistants working at Minneapolis-based Allina Health System voted to unionize. The physicians said chronic understaffing that was leading to burnout was a main motivator behind the decision. The health system attempted to appeal the vote, but that appeal was rejected in January. 

"As the active physicians are aging, they start working a heck of a lot less hours and eventually retire. The newer generations are a lot smarter than us," Tony Andrulonis, MD, a former emergency medicine physician and current president and COO of ScribeAmerica, told Becker's. 

"And they want to have work-life balance. Younger physicians aren't working as many hours, so you have a headcount shortage. On the provider side, that burnout that's been going on for years and years was completely amplified by COVID-19. Providers are burning out, younger doctors aren't working as much, older doctors aren't working as much and all of a sudden here comes this huge population that needs more care and more time than ever before. It's a recipe for disaster. We need to figure this out and try to solve it."

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