Medical Students Win the Right to Unionize

Medical students completing their training in private hospitals as residents, interns and fellows are entitled to form unions to negotiate wages and hours, a divided National Labor Relations Board has ruled.

The 3-2 decision overturned a 23-year precedent that had classified doctors-in-training as students, denying them collective bargaining rights.

“Interns, residents and fellows . . . while they may be students learning their chosen medical craft, are also ‘employees,’ ” protected under the National Labor Relations Act, the board said in its Friday decision, which was not made public until Monday.

Dr. Andrew Yacht, chief resident for internal medicine at Boston Medical Center, said many interns and residents were hopeful the board’s ruling will bring relief, for example, from the notoriously long hours--often 80 or more a week--they typically work.


“Resident physicians deserve a voice in determining their working conditions in order to deliver the highest quality patient care,” he said.

The NLRB decision cited other professions in which individuals serving as trainees, such as associate lawyers and apprentice architects, are considered employees protected by federal laws.

There are about 100,000 medical interns, residents and fellows working in the nation’s hospitals. They generally have completed four years of medical school, but several more years of hands-on training is typically required for certification in their chosen medical specialties.