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Seattle medical residents ask for 80-hour week limit, more pay

Flickr Photo/I-5 Design & Manufacture (CC BY NC ND 2.0)
Medical residents at UW Medicine are looking to improve their work conditions.

New doctors plan to leave the job for a short time to make their points.

More than 500 resident physicians at the University of Washington Medical Center plan to walk off the job on Wednesday, February 23.

They’re walking out for 15 minutes — the length of their break — to ask for better working conditions.

These are residents who have finished medical school and are training for several years under more senior doctors. Their union is asking for shorter work shifts, shorter work weeks, more pay, and a number of changes that the residents say would make UW Medicine residencies accessible to doctors from more diverse backgrounds, and doctors who are also parents.

George Plummer, a neurology resident at UW Medicine, said residents sometimes work for more than 24 hours in a single shift. The residents want that limited to 16. And they want their work weeks limited to 80 hours.

Plummer said these changes would make patients safer.

“If we want to avoid mistakes, the most rational thing to do is make sure people are rested well, so they can perform at their best to make complex decisions,” he said.

Regarding pay, the union says many residents end up with an hourly pay below minimum wage, yet must live in expensive neighborhoods to be close to work when called in.

The residents are also asking for overtime pay when they work more than 70 hours in a week.

A spokesperson for the university did not respond to questions about the residents’ specific demands. But she said the UW recognizes their right to assemble and self-advocate, and that the university will continue to negotiate in good faith with the union.