Viewpoint: Wage inequities are hurting the medical profession

A strike of more than 150 resident physicians is highlighting an issue that can no longer be ignored in medicine: wage disparity, Kevin Pho, MD, an internal medicine physician and founder of KevinMD, wrote on the website May 22.

New York City-based Elmhurst Hospital is at the center of the wage debate, but the issues physicians are protesting there are not unique to that system. There is a larger problem of fairness, equity and respect within the profession, Dr. Pho wrote.

"At the core of this unrest lies the glaring wage gap between residents employed under the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai working at Elmhurst and those stationed at Mount Sinai's main campus," Dr. Pho wrote. "This striking difference in wages brings to the forefront an inconvenient reality — an equal workload does not guarantee equitable compensation."

The rise of physician unions is a direct response to the longstanding issues for physicians in the healthcare system: pay inequities, relentless work hours and a disregard for hazard pay, he wrote. 

"It is disheartening to witness the very doctors who fought on the front lines of this crisis now battling for what should be a given — fair pay and appropriate working conditions," Dr. Pho wrote. "The issue is not about the nature of the work a resident undertakes, which remains fundamentally the same whether in a public hospital like Elmhurst or a private one like Mount Sinai's main campus. It's about respect and equity. It's about whether society values the work of its healers enough to ensure they are adequately compensated."

Dr. Pho added, "Physician strikes like the one at Elmhurst should be seen as desperate calls for change rather than a calculated standoff. They stem from persistent frustrations, demanding work conditions and a lack of necessary support. Resident physicians, like all medical professionals, are committed to patient care, but they shouldn't be required to do so at the expense of their well-being and equitable treatment."

Addressing wage disparities in medicine with compassion, understanding and commitment to systemic changes is overdue, Dr. Pho said, adding that all physicians should fight for the integrity of the profession.

"It's time to stand up for the dignity of all doctors, from the most seasoned specialist to the youngest resident. After all, the strength of the medical profession lies in its unity and shared commitment to a noble cause — healing those in need," Dr. Pho concluded.

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