Could Supreme Court ruling back worker protections to come for medical residents?

The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling Tuesday upholding the IRS’ determination that resident physicians are workers – not students – and thus should pay Social Security taxes further bolsters the case that residents should also have other protections afforded to workers. This includes a good night’s sleep.

Public Citizen, as part of the Wake Up Doctor coalition, petitioned the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in September to regulate the hours that resident physicians work, urging the agency to cut shifts from as long as 30 hours three times a week to a maximum of 16 hours per shift. Exhausted resident physicians are at increased risk of being in a car crash and suffering from depression, pregnancy complications and needle sticks – not to mention the susceptibility to medical errors, which can adversely affect patients, research shows.

We hope that the court’s ruling in Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research v. United States is a sign of progress to come in the rights of resident physicians to protections that other workers currently have.

Dr. Sidney Wolfe is director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group.