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UCSD Health resident physicians demand better working conditions

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Carlos Castillo/KPBS
UC San Diego Health resident physicians protest working conditions outside of UCSD’s Jacobs Medical Center in La Jolla, Oct. 6, 2021.

At UC San Diego Health’s La Jolla medical campus resident physicians are protesting what they say is the hospital system’s refusal to negotiate a fair contract.

"We’re not asking for kindness or special favors or treatment all we’re asking for is to be treated with the basic dignity and respect we deserve as employees of this hospital," said Dr. Aram Namavar, a resident physician at UC San Diego Health.

The doctors argue they have been working the frontlines of the pandemic taking care of patients and are asking UCSD Health officials to do the same for them.

"I’m personally aware of residents who cannot afford to buy hospital cafeteria food and another who is facing eviction because they cant afford to pay rent," said Dr. Sean Li, who is in his sixth year of residency.

Li said many of his colleagues are working 80, even up to 100 hours a week and among other issues do not have adequate meal stipends.

"You’re here for up to 28 hours on one shift so it’s impossible to not eat at the hospital," he said. "So we’re asking for a fair stipend for meals so that we can sustain ourselves during these long shifts."

Dr. Christine Zachek is in her third year of residency.

"I think it often comes as a surprise to people when I explain how much I work and how much little sleep I get," she said.

Zachek said the university has not given them support to take care of themselves.

"During this year my partner lost his job due to COVID and I got in a car accident
— things add up and then the debt is always there and always present in your mind — so I know it’s been a personal struggle for me," she said.

UCSD Health Resident Physicians Want Better Working Conditions

A UC San Diego Health spokesperson said in a statement they are prioritizing the safety and well-being of team members, adding, "UC San Diego is in the process of contract negotiations with the union representing resident physicians and has offered a robust package that features substantial economic increases and non-economic commitments," the spokesperson said. "Among them: a three-year contract with year-over-year pay increases, increased housing and education stipends, increased meal allowances and the creation of a Resident Physician Wellness Committee."

Resident physicians said the two sides are still far apart, but are hoping to come to an agreement soon. Both sides are back at the bargaining table Thursday.