Israeli Medical Residents to Submit Mass Resignations in Protest Over Conditions

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Doctors and medical staff demonstrate in front of the Ministry of Health, Jerusalem
Doctors and medical staff demonstrate in front of the Ministry of Health, JerusalemCredit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Hundreds of medical interns and residents are set to submit their resignations on Monday, after a protracted back-and-forth with the Health Ministry over working conditions. 

Medical interns and residents had agreed on Sunday to delay submitting their resignations one more day while they waited for the government to make them a new offer reducing the length of their shifts.

However, the union for medical residents, Mirsham, said that "in recent days, we have made a sincere effort with Minister Horowitz and the Ministry of Health, but unfortunately, there has been no progress. In fact, throughout the last few weeks, except for a brief meeting, the Minister of Health has refrained from contacting us."

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Mirsham added that "as long as there is no change in the situation, dozens of residents will submit their resignation in hospitals across Israel in the coming days."

Hospitals and patients won’t feel the effects immediately because the resignations will only take effect either two weeks or one month later, depending on the resident’s contract.

Monday’s planned resignations are only the first stage of a broader collective resignation that would ultimately affect around 30 departments in hospitals around the country, Mirsham said. Once the letters take effect, these departments will not be able to continue operating, the union warned.

The union hasn’t yet said which departments or hospitals the resignations would affect in order to avoid members coming under pressure to retract their letters. But it warned that in the departments that would be affected, more than half of residents have prepared resignation letters.

Moreover, it said, more than half of residents in a similar number of departments have already prepared resignations for the next stage of the battle.

Medical workers walk in a protest against 26-hour hospital shiftsCredit: Moti Milrod

Under a plan that was signed off on by Economy and Industry Minister Orna Barbivai two weeks ago, shifts would be cut from 26 to 18 hours in most hospital departments in the periphery by the end of the first quarter of 2022, but not in surgery, intensive care and anesthesia. The latter two would get shorter shifts by July 2023, but no date was set for surgery at all.

Dr. Rey Biton, Mirsham’s chairwoman, said in a Facebook post that the plan was unacceptable because it wouldn’t be implemented in the center of the country, only in the periphery – and even then, not for more than a year in some cases. “What happens in the coming days will determine the future of medicine in Israel and the fate of our coming battles – the wage agreement, improving training, working conditions and more!” Biton wrote.

For the residents, submitting resignations isn’t risk-free, since none of them are guaranteed to be rehired unless whatever agreement the government and Mirsham eventually reach mandates it.

Interns and residents have fought for shorter shifts for years, but only got a response from the government two weeks ago. They have received almost no public backing from senior doctors.

A collective resignation isn’t unprecedented: Hundreds of residents resigned in 2011 to protest an agreement between the government and the Israel Medical Association they said did little to help them. The government responded by winning a restraining order from the National Labor Court, arguing that this was “a strike in disguise” rather than a true resignation.

Medical staff at Assuta Hospital in Ashdod, this monthCredit: Ilan Assayag

Nevertheless, the government launched negotiations with a group of residents who didn’t belong to the IMA, which produced significant benefits for the residents in question, including an extra day of paid vacation per week, extra pay for overtime and limiting their 26-hour shifts to six per month.

Shortening shifts from 26 to 18 hours, however, is more complicated. For one thing, barring a substantial budget increase, it would require slashing residents’ salaries by around 30 percent – something the residents obviously deem unacceptable. It would also mean hiring more residents, which would require extra funding as well. But, since no state budget has yet been approved for either this year or next, extra funding doesn’t currently exist.

Around 300 interns and residents demonstrated in Tel Aviv on Sunday in support of their fight for shorter shifts, carrying signs such as “Doctors are people, too” and “We won’t give up until they’re shortened.” After gathering outside the Cinematheque, they marched toward the Azrieli Junction and briefly blocked it.

Ella, an intern who attended the demonstration, said she was debating whether to stay in medicine at all. “High-tech companies are knocking on our doors, and I have many friends who have given up medicine because of the work conditions,” she said. “It’s terrible – every shift, serious mistakes are being made. Sometimes, it depends on the patient’s family seeing the mistakes.”

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