Alumni Corner: The Power of a Collective Voice
Cynthia Stotts, DO, is an inpatient pediatric ward and PICU attending at Los Angeles County+USC Medical Center and recently spoke on the Women in Medicine alumni panel at CIR’s Resident Leadership Conference. She completed her residency at LAC+USC and was the President of the Joint Committee of Interns and Residents (JCIR), the union that represented residents at Los Angeles County hospitals until it merged with CIR in 1997.
How did you get involved with the union when you were a resident?
I went to a meeting about the Patient Care Fund. When I asked how much money there was available, I was told that we’d spent about half of the $400,000 we had for the year. That fund came about because the residents in the 1970s gave up 10 percent salary increases and put it into this pot to buy things that enabled them to do their jobs better. “What are we doing with the other half?” I asked. No one was really sure. So I said, “Okay, let’s get organized and spend this money.” And we organized ourselves, saying, okay, this department gets this and this department has this list of needs, and we were all collaborating. In the process we made significant improvements that you could see year after year. And all of this was just advocating for what people wanted what made a better residency, what made a better training program, what made a better place to take care of patients.
What can we do to help residents particularly women maintain their careers while also dealing with other life issues?
Accommodate women’s issues so that women can have careers the same way men can. We used to say that if you had a female intern that was of the childbearing age, you could count on them being out at some point, and it was seen as something unique to women. It was a source of discrimination. But now the guys go out for six weeks too, so all of a sudden there’s less separation between the genders on this. I thinks that’s great.
Everywhere that you can get language that facilitates people doing part-time work so that when life happens they can deal with it and not lose their career, keep working on those issues. Think about what could happen in your life and what protections would allow you to deal with it and then come back and reintegrate into residency. Get that language in the
What is the importance of being part of a union and being active in the union during your residency?
If you can improve a system it allows you to own it and to push through those wedges for changes that are so necessary.
As the president of JCIR, I said what everyone else was either too busy or too fearful to say. It can be quite intimidating to speak up, especially when you’re in the lower tiers of residency, but it’s got to be the residents who speak up. A union is the members. You need the help and support of others, but you need that support to do what you need to do for yourselves.