Stanford Health Care’s Exploited Frontline Physicians Organize Following Unprecedented Pandemic Activism



February 22, 2022

Press Contact: Dara Streit


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Stanford Health Care’s Exploited Frontline Physicians Organize Following Unprecedented Pandemic Activism   

Stanford Health Care’s Resident Physicians demand union recognition for Patient Care, Working Conditions

Stanford, CA – A supermajority of Stanford Health Care housestaff physicians today delivered a formal demand to Stanford that it voluntarily recognize the Committee of Interns and Residents/SEIU (CIR/SEIU) as their exclusive representative for purposes of collective bargaining. The Stanford physicians’ quest to unionize is the latest development in a wave of housestaff physician collective action that has swept through California in recent years.

The experience of battling the pandemic as frontline health care providers helped the interns, residents and fellows at Stanford recognize that they needed to organize to better advocate for the needs of their patients and themselves, according to Dr. Meaghan Roy-O’Reilly, a second-year Neurology resident. “We had hoped our institution would have the bandwidth to advocate for us,” said Dr. Roy-O’Reilly.  “Unfortunately, given the events that have elapsed over the past two years, we ultimately realized that we need to advocate for ourselves – and for each other.”

The union organizing drive was inspired by a resident-led protest in December 2020 against a Stanford vaccination plan that excluded housestaff from the initial round of vaccinations, despite their critical role in providing in-person care to COVID-19 patients.  The protests caused Stanford to revise its vaccination plan to prioritize residents, but the anger created by the initial exclusion as well as the success of the protests fueled a surge of activism among the housestaff, said Dr. Philip Sossenheimer, a second-year Internal Medicine resident. “We witnessed the power of organizing firsthand by successfully advocating for a more equitable vaccine distribution,” added Dr. Sossenheimer.  “With union representation, our doctors will be empowered to improve patient care standards and ensure we are being compensated fairly by hospital administration.” 

In a time where physician burnout is a widespread issue, hospital management has refused to address resident concerns, stalling instead of taking action, according to Stanford residents. “Our hospital is rapidly changing and growing, and unfortunately the burden of extra clinical service has fallen largely on resident physicians without improvement in working conditions or compensation, even as our peer institutions have achieved historic salary and benefit improvements,” said third-year Pediatrics resident Dr. Benjamin Solomon. “We need to collectively establish a clear voice for the housestaff to advocate for one another and our patients; if not, we run the risk of sacrificing both our quality of life and the quality of our education.”

Amid a nationwide trend of resident unionization and labor issues–which includes the University of Massachusetts residents who are currently negotiating a first contract, the University of Illinois-Chicago who recently won union recognition, and Greater Lawrence Family Health Center who are currently voting to join CIRSEIU, Stanford residents hope to build on their historic and unprecedented advocacy efforts. Through unionizing, they hope to advocate for improved working conditions, patient care standards, and have a voice at the bargaining table.   

The Committee of Interns and Residents (CIR) is the largest housestaff union in the United States. A local of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), representing over 20,000 resident physicians and fellows, CIR members are dedicated to improving residency training and education, advancing patient care, and expanding healthcare access for our communities.