California has long been at the forefront in addressing society’s most pressing issues. In the 1960s, increasing concern about the health impact of automobile emissions prompted the passage of the Clean Air Act, which launched national standards barring states from controlling vehicle emissions. But the bill had one notable immunity: California, which had already developed stricter regulations to handle air pollution. Now, the Golden State can direct in another arena: Combat the burnout epidemic in treatment, invest in public health, and redefine living earnings.
Senate Bill 525 opens in a new tab or window (SB 525), presented by state senator Maria Elena Durazo (D), would boost the minimum wage for healthcare employees in California to $25 an hour and link it to inflation (the current state minimum wage is $15.50/hour). This bill couldn’t arrive at a more propitious time. Half of the health employees report signs of burnout, including nearly two third open in a new tab or window doctors. There has been an exit of healthcare workers from the area, with even more exits anticipated in the coming years. Undeniably, the healthcare system is in a situation, and our collective well-being is under attack.
Resident physicians need to be more relaxed with patients and challenges. As a recent resident, this doesn’t surprise me. The average citizen in the U.S. earns about $64,000 annually opens in a new tab or window while operating 60-80 hours a week, which on an hourly basis reaches out to essentially the current minimum wage. We disburse most of our waking hours in the hospital and are an essential component in the delivery of patient care. Yet numerous of us struggle to cover basic living costs, and the pressures of being a physician and economic insecurity take an unexpected toll. Burnout results in the moral injury of failing to satisfy our high standards for patients, which only directs to more exhaustion.
SB 525 would be a revolutionary investment in us, the providers the public depends upon daily. Guaranteeing healthcare workers, including residents, are well compensated would allow us breathing space to concentrate on patients rather than being pushed to our boundaries or leaving healthcare altogether. It would also finance the next generation of physicians precisely when we need to amplify the workforce. More than half of physicians go on to practice medicine in the state where they accomplished their residency. SB 525 would thus certainly make California a desirable place for physicians of all socioeconomic experiences to pursue training, understanding they will be supported in this state. We can draw the most talented doctors nationwide who will care for Californians in their late 20s and early 30s into the 2050s and future.
The economic insecurity of residency, combined with an average of $250,000 in student loan deficit, means that many of us struggle to demonstrate stability for ourselves and our families. Consequently, many residents feel pressured to set aside their aspirations and seek higher-paying specialties to make up for the years we spend following our education and getting paid below-market salaries. The provisions of SB 525 would suggest that residents would have more liberty to pursue critically required positions in primary care or rural and urban underserved neighborhoods. These careers need to be well-paid in our fragmented, capitalist healthcare design.
It’s reasonable to ask why we should increase resident physicians’ wages when the skyrocketing cost of living and rising inflation consume everyone’s income. As frontline healthcare providers, we understand the state’s affordability crisis. We see its devastating impacts on our patients when they cannot spend on life-saving medications or are evicted from their houses. The current state minimum salary of $15.50 an hour, or $32,240 per year, is insufficient to cover food and a house, let alone support a household or save for retirement. SB 525 would boost the minimum wage for all healthcare workers — resident doctors, nurses, patient aides, technicians, food service employees, and many others — whose ranks include some patients floundering to make ends meet. In our affluent and prosperous nation, we demand that healthcare workers be paid a living salary. As physicians, we know this bill is just the start, and we stand with those battling for a future where everyone can gain a salary that affords dignity and consideration.
After California set its emissions restrictions, many other states followed suit; with an actual living salary, we can lead the nation again. Amidst a critical physician deficiency, the status quo could be more bearable, with one out of every five open in a new tab or window physicians saying they intend to leave their practice in the next two years. SB 525 is an asset in the healthcare workforce and the health of all Californians.