Would Unions Really Help Doctors Get What They Want?

Leigh Page


August 17, 2016

In This Article

Physicians Are Raising Their Voices

Physician strikes are almost as rare as the chance of getting hit by lightning, but they've been getting a lot of attention recently.

Earlier this year in the United Kingdom, 45,000 junior doctors roughly equivalent to residents—engaged in a mass strike against the government-run National Health Service (NHS).

And last year, in an action against the University of California (UC) system, employed physicians reportedly[1] carried out the first non-resident physician strike in the United States in 25 years.

Physician strikes are usually initiated by labor unions, and interest in unions seems to be on the upswing as the ranks of employed physicians grow, according to Frank Proscia, MD, president of the Doctors Council, a union representing about 4000 physicians and dentists, most in public hospitals.

Of course, interest doesn't necessarily translate into actually joining or creating a union. Dr Proscia reports that an increasing number of doctors has been calling him in the past few years, asking how to set up a union shop. "Employed doctors need a union," he says. "One doctor speaking up against management is not going to be heard."

In fact, hospitalists employed at an Oregon hospital formed a union more than 18 months ago. A few weeks ago, they completed negotiations on their first contract with the hospital.

Unions can save employed physicians from becoming powerless wage earners, says David M. Schwartz, MD, president of a local that represents 27 hospitalists at PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend in Springfield, Oregon.

"The biggest challenge for employed physicians is going to be the realization that they're no longer part of an autonomous profession," he says. "They work for people who no longer respect their autonomy."

His group is thought to be the first doctors' local limited to just one specialty. The National Labor Relations Board now allows "micro-units" of employees to join unions,[2] which could boost the unionization of doctors. 'It is easier to sign up a small group, like Dr Schwartz's hospitalists, than to recruit the entire physician workforce in a hospital.


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