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Dr. Manny: Supreme Court can save medical education with labor relations rulings

Doctor With Stethoscope Health Care

I’m happy about the Supreme Court’s ruling this week, which smacks down President Obama’s decision to appoint three people to the National Labor Relations Board while members of the Senate were on break in 2012.

This is going to bring close attention to the decisions that were made while these non-valid appointees were holding seats on the NLRB. I’m interested in one point in particular – the issue of medical education and whether medical residents should be legally considered employees or students by the NLRB.

In May, a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board ruled that medical residents at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York were employees, as opposed to students, according to an article in Labor Relations Today.

Beth Israel argued that the residents were “learners,” pointing out that medical residents regularly attend class-like sessions and work closely with attending physicians to monitor their skills. However, the NLRB argued that the residents, “are not enrolled in school, do not pay tuition, and have already received their academic degrees.”

In my opinion, this administration is overreaching and interfering with medical education in this country. Medical residents are in post-graduate training. They have to take exams, in addition to mandatory continuing medical education (CME) classes. They are students and, therefore, not employees.

Additionally, the argument that medical residents are not enrolled in school is false. Resident education is a post-graduate education under the supervision of a medical school or a health graduate school, which usually sponsors the residency. Second, medical residents do receive a degree at the end of their residency – and that degree is necessary for them to get a job. A simple medical school degree does not give them the full right to practice within a medical specialty. Residents must also take an exam once they are finished, which is called a board certification.

And the medical education system has evolved over time to better protect these individuals. Gone are the days when residents worked endless hours, without any breaks or time to do research or prepare for exams. The medical education system now protects these students’ rights – but those rights may be in jeopardy if the NLRB takes away their student statuses.

This type of decision-making will interfere with the way medical educators deal with graduate students. The relationship between a resident and his or her attending physician is a close one – a mentorship that evolves over time. By declaring residents employees, rather than students, it will change the dynamic of what was traditionally a student-teacher relationship. Ultimately, if these type of rulings continue to be upheld, it will be a bad thing for medical education.

I’m happy the Supreme Court has stepped up to put President Obama in his place. And now, I hope that many of the decisions made by the Democratic-controlled board of the NRLB – appointed illegally by President Obama – will be revisited. Obama wants America to have access to health care, but it seems that his labor board does not care about the quality of the doctors we are graduating.

Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's Senior Managing Editor for Health News. Prior to this position, Alvarez was a FNC medical contributor.
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