The ‘backbone of the hospital’: Penn Medicine residents are rallying for higher salaries, better working conditions

"World-class health care institutions have to pay world-class wages and offer their workers respect,” said one Philly City Council member.

Residents cheering and holding signs at the protest

Penn Medicine residents rallied around the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania on May 1 asking the health system to increase their wages and improve their working conditions. (Alan Yu/WHYY)

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After voting to unionize almost a year ago, resident doctors at Penn Medicine — who have been negotiating on a contract for the past few months — are pushing for better wages and benefits.

On Wednesday afternoon, more than 100 Penn Medicine residents rallied at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

One major sticking point has been salary. The residents say they do most of the work of caring for patients, but are not paid appropriately for it. Residents work as much as 80 hours a week.

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“We are the backbone of the hospital as residents,” said Ade Osinubi, a second-year emergency medicine resident. “Doing the math, we’re typically compensated about $10 an hour.”

Residents cheering and holding signs at the protest
Penn Medicine residents rallied at Edward Kane Park across the street from the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania on May 1 before marching in front of the hospital. They called on the health system to accept high wage increases and other proposals for a union contract. (Alan Yu/WHYY)

Madison Sharp, a fourth-year resident in obstetrics and gynecology, is part of the bargaining team. She said the union asked Penn Medicine to increase their wages over the next few years, and received a counteroffer for an increase that was not commensurate with the rate of inflation.

“They made a comment that residents are and should be inherently underpaid and if we wanted to make more money, we should have become an advanced practice provider, which is a nurse practitioner or a physician assistant,” Sharp said. “It’s sort of a demoralizing comment to hear from your hospital when you’re trying to provide the best care possible to your patients.”

First-year psychiatry resident Hae-Min Jung said residents often work more than they’re expected to.

“We’re only given on average one day off every seven days and that’s averaged over a 28 day period, so I know people who have worked 21 continuous days without rest,” he said. “There’s an unfair expectation that physicians have to sacrifice everything for work, which is not fair to the patients because they’re getting care from physicians who aren’t getting the rest that they need.”

Waseem Lutfi speaking at the rally
Waseem Lutfi, resident in the department of surgery, addressed other Penn Medicine residents with his eight-month-old child. He said he had recently worked for 72 hours with around four hours of sleep. (Alan Yu/WHYY)

A Penn Medicine spokesperson responded that residents and fellows are highly valued, and that the health system is “committed to fully supporting trainees during these essential years of their medical careers, including bargaining in good faith … we are close to finalizing contract negotiations on non-economic terms. We will continue these efforts as we work through economic proposals, a process which is guided by our longstanding commitment to providing all members of our workforce — including residents and fellows — with competitive wages and best-in-class benefits, including a retirement savings match, tuition reimbursement, and paid leave for new parents.”

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Several local public officials showed up to support the rally as well: City Council members Jamie Gauthier, Nicolas O’Rourke, Nina Ahmad, Rue Landau and Kendra Brooks, as well as state Rep. Rick Krajewski and state Sen. Nikil Saval.

Councilmember Gauthier’s district includes the hospital and Penn’s campus, and she thanked the residents for taking care of the community.

“World-class health care institutions have to pay world-class wages and offer their workers respect. And our community deserves a health care institution that recognizes the humanity of its workers and the volume of your work,” she said. “As the largest employer and the dominant health care system in this city, Penn has a responsibility to you and to our community, especially given the significant tax breaks that the institution receives.”

On the same day, the University of Pennsylvania’s graduate student workers started voting to decide whether to form a union. If the workers unionize, it would be the biggest new union in Philadelphia in decades.

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