Bargaining for fair work conditions is ongoing between the Committee of Interns and Residents and the University of New Mexico. This union, representing all intern and resident physicians who work for UNM, has been in contract negotiations with the University for about two and a half months.
CIR is an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union and has had a collective bargaining agreement with the University since 2007. These contract negotiations take place every three years to determine agreements on working conditions, including stipulations on salaries, benefits, supplies and more. The current agreement, which began on August 1, 2019, expires on Aug. 31 this year.
Dr. Kate Kollars, a resident physician at UNM and resident of CIR speaking as a union member, discussed more about the Union with the Daily Lobo.
“The goal of it is to help empower residents to advocate for better training, better patient care (and) better working conditions that benefit not just themselves but also the hospitals and the patients we care for,” Kollars said.
Some notable contract articles that the Union is trying to gain revolve around the physical and mental wellness of healthcare workers. Some of these protections include access to appropriate personal protective equipment, adequate time off and childcare stipends.
“We want to be able to have residents come to New Mexico and start families and stay here, and our salaries make it pretty difficult so (we’re) trying to add onto some other things to support people being able to move their families here,” Kollars said.
Many articles have already been “gutted and eliminated from our negotiations,” according to a member of CIR speaking as a union member, who requested to remain anonymous for protection purposes. Some of the denied articles included stipulations to help diversify the residents that are recruited, allow employees to take Martin Luther King Jr. Day off as a holiday and add preparations in the case of another national emergency.
Burnout among resident physicians is also something Kollars brought up, and the National Institutes of Health reported that resident physicians “appear to be especially prone to burnout due to the number of hours spent at work each week, the large body of clinical knowledge to master and the challenges of balancing work and home life.” Residents work up to 80 hours a week and rarely have more than one day off per week.
New Mexico currently faces a physician shortage and the NIH said the state has the second-worst projected shortage ratio in America, attributing this to an inability to gain and keep young physicians. According to the NIH, 37% of New Mexico’s physicians are over 60 years old and face retirement within the next decade.
“To maintain the status quo, New Mexico will require an additional 2,118 physicians by 2030, a 40.4% increase of the state’s current 3,128 physicians (as of 2017),” the NIH said. “The aging physician population reflects the difficulty New Mexico has in attracting and retaining young physicians.”
This inability to attract physicians largely stems from a disproportionately low salary, according to another anonymous member of CIR that spoke as a union member. They said UNM is 7% behind other residency programs in the region in terms of salary, which has become a larger challenge now that the cost of living in Albuquerque has seen a significant rise in the past year. According to the Albuquerque Journal, only about 25% to 30% of UNM medical school graduates stay in the state to work.
“We work just as hard and have to demonstrate better outcomes for less money,” Paul Roth, chancellor for UNM Health Sciences and dean of the School of Medicine, told the Journal.
The average resident salary in 2020 was around $64,000, according to a 2021 Medscape residents salary and debt report; UNM’s average resident salary currently sits at about $60,000, as decided per standing contract negotiations. According to the Medscape report, 57% of residents think that their compensation is unfair for their work.
Looking forward, Kollars is afraid of being hit with another dark wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. As someone not originally from New Mexico, Kollars was unable to see her family throughout the pandemic; she grappled with the need for a support system, but this collided with her fear that she would get someone sick. Now that the COVID-19 vaccine is readily available in America, Kollars has melancholic feelings about entering severe hospitalization waves again because it’s preventable.
“It’s just very emotionally taxing to see people sick in the hospital with this disease and passing away. And this time around knowing that there is an option to prevent it — at least the hospitalizations and the death (since we can) dramatically reduce that — makes it even sadder,” Kollars said. “Just overall, our country was not prepared in the way that we could have been to manage it.”
Ultimately, Kollars said these contract negotiations will benefit UNM and will lead to recruiting more residents that will want to stay in the state and “serve the communities of New Mexico.”
Megan Gleason is the Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @fabflutist2716