Dr. Nicole Croom
As doctors, our role does not end with diagnosing illness. Once a treatment is selected, we begin the arduous task of advocating for high quality care for our patients in a healthcare system plagued by inefficiencies and inequitable resource distribution. Our skill in patient advocacy develops during residency, and many of us enter these years with six-digits worth of student debt. It is a time when our education, careers and futures are most vulnerable to retribution and dismissal. To do our jobs effectively and competently, we must feel protected to address issues pertaining to patient care and workplace safety with our superiors.
I’d like to thank Assemblymember Freddie Rodriguez (CD-52) for recognizing and championing this effort when he authored AB 2114 to extend impartial due process protections, in non-medical or clinical matters, to medical and dental interns, resident physicians and fellows training in the University of California system. In a legislative session unlike any before, delayed by COVID outbreaks and unprecedented voting measures, AB 2114 passed in the 11th hour. Unlike the many bills that died this year, the fate of these protections now rests with Governor Newsom.
During this historic year, resident physicians have been on the front lines treating the most underserved in our communities while organizing PPE drives to keep ourselves and our colleagues safe. We’ve stood with Black Lives Matter as protestors and street medics, and encouraged our communities to be counted in the 2020 Census because we understand that wellness requires equity and enumeration.
As a pathologist, I work alongside the clinical team to determine the root cause of a patient’s ailment. I’m trained to see and acknowledge irregularities in the body, and that often extends to recognizing the flaws in our healthcare systems and injustices rooted within our infrastructures. Any system that could prevent residents from voicing our concerns poses a threat to patient care.
Without impartial due process, my colleagues and I may be disciplined or terminated for an infraction unrelated to our academic or clinical performance. Difficult to assess objectively, numerous factors can bias what a superior deems “unprofessional.” As a woman of mixed race, I spend much-needed mental energy worrying that my curls, inked skin or Central Valley mannerisms may draw negative attention from those in power. In the past, I have been criticized in evaluations for speaking up about workplace concerns. Fear that further negative reviews could impact my future training and career prospects have kept me silent. No more.
Upon the completion of our residency programs, we aim to emerge as capable and dedicated physicians. AB 2114 does not detract from our training, but grants protections to our voices. My colleagues and I are grateful to Assembly member Rodriguez and the California Legislature for prioritizing AB 2114 in this session, and urge Governor Newsom to sign this bill into law. The small protection that an impartial due process enables will ensure that interns, residents, and fellows feel supported in demanding the highest standards of health and safety for all Californians.
The views expressed in this piece are my own. I do not speak for my institution.
Dr. Nicole Croom is a 4th-year Pathology and Laboratory Medicine Resident Physician at UCSF, and a Delegate of the Committee of Interns and Residents/SEIU.