Should Hospitals Force Radiology Residents To Work In The ICU During The Covid Crisis?
Radiology residents are working in the ICU or the wards to meet the increasing demands of an influx of Covid-19 patients, sometimes having little to do with their training. And, most residents have graciously accepted their new duties, in the name of helping a higher cause. But why must residents comply with these demands? Are hospitals treating these physicians fairly? Is it ethical for h0spitals to require residents to participate and forego training in their desired subspecialty? And, what must the hospital ethically provide in return? Let’s answer some of these burning questions as it reveals some underlying issues about residents and residencies themselves.
The Government Indirectly Hires Residents
Once you sign your residency contract on the dotted line (or solid line!), you are receiving a salary from not just the healthcare system that employs you, but also indirectly from a pool of money provided to the hospitals by Medicare. And, most residents receive these government funds in one way or another. Therefore, you are indirectly working as the Government’s servant. In this setting, residents must comply with the Government and the hospital to receive a salary. So, hospitals do have the right to set aside educational objectives for the moment (even though it may not be what you bargained for!)
Residency Has Service And Educational Obligations
It’s not all about take, take, take! There are two components to any residency, educational and service obligations. Not too long ago, in an attempt to get back Social Security taxes from the Federal Government, residents sued the IRS because they claimed that medical residents were students and not employees. (Check out this article) In the end, the Government returned taxes to residents because the Government never clarified the definition of a resident. However, nowadays, the definition of residency changed. Today, the Government/IRS considers residents to be employees, not just students. And, for that reason, all current residents pay Social Security taxes as well as need to comply with government/hospital demands for service. (That includes time in the ICU!)
What Do Hospitals/Government Need To Provide In Return?
Hospitals have a moral and ethical obligation to provide a safe environment for resident trainees. Any institution that does not offer such a setting violates the spirit of a resident’s contract with the institution. What does that mean? Well, hospitals should treat residents like any other employee. In the case of this epidemic, hospitals should provide residents with the protective equipment they need to stay safe. No resident should risk life and limb without the appropriate accommodations of the institution in return.
And, hospitals should continue to pay their residents at their negotiated salary. Understandably, hospitals are struggling with the lack of revenue from canceled elective procedures. However, the amount that they receive for maintaining residency programs remains fixed by the Government. Therefore, it is only fair that residencies should continue to receive their salaries without furlough or pay cut. They are not the same as general employees whose wages can be subject to market forces.
A New World Order For Radiology Residents: Time In The ICU
No. ICU work is not what most residents signed up for when they began their radiology residencies. However, radiology trainees are still, first and foremost, physicians with service obligations. Part of these requirements is a duty to do no harm and help patients. Moreover, hospitals also have ethical and moral responsibilities toward their residents. Therefore, when both the resident and hospital meet these conditions, radiology residents can and should play a role in meeting the new needs of the healthcare system. Hey, when did you ever sign up for something that was as you exactly expected?