A group of young physicians has sued a national medical program and 29 medical schools and teaching hospitals, including Georgetown University Hospital, claiming the program engages in anticompetitive practices that create conditions where residents receive insufficient pay for the long hours they work.

While the suit would affect all 126 medical schools and teaching hospitals if the plaintiffs win the suit, only 29 private schools and related medical entities were named in the suit, one of them being Georgetown. The plaintiffs are seeking money damages caused by the program.

The National Resident Matching Program, referred to as the atch, places recent medical school graduates as residents at their top hospital choices to learn more about their professions. The hospitals must also agree to accept the students. The matching is done through a computer system, which places about 80 percent of first-year residents at teaching hospitals.

The plaintiffs contend that the Match program violates antitrust legislation because it limits competition and negotiation of salaries and hours for residents. Since only private institutions can violate antitrust laws, they were the ones specifically named in the suit.

On average, residents are paid annually anywhere from $37,000 to $40,000 while completing their residencies, often working between 60 and 100 hours a week. Some say that’s not enough to make and that they could bargain for higher wages were it not for the atch program, which is popular among medical schools and teaching hospitals.

According to a Web site for the plaintiffs, the suit also alleges that the wages do not take into account “such factors as program prestige, medical specialty, geographic location, resident merit and year of employment.”

First filed in May 2002, the suit could go on for years, but the atch will still be in place during that time.

“As it is a pending lawsuit, there is no immediate impact on our community. GU Medical Center stands wholeheartedly behind the match program,” Lindsey Spindle, director of media relations for the Georgetown University Medical Center, said.

Marianne Worley, director of media relations for Georgetown University Hospital, said, “Georgetown University Hospital is a named defendant in the Jung v. AAMC suit. Since resident physicians are enrolled as post-graduate trainees of the hospital, and not of Georgetown University, this matter does not affect the university. This suit is in active litigation, and we are therefore unable to comment on any details.”

Aaron Grant, a first-year medical student at Georgetown, said that he is not too familiar with the program but knows that it is academically rigorous to get into.

“It is competitive if you want one of the more selective specialties,” he said, “and to get those specialties, you need to score well on the boards and be pretty highly ranked in your class.”

In addition to naming specific schools, the suit also names five medical organizations including the Association of American Medical Colleges, of which all 126 medical schools and teaching hospitals are members.

Joseph Keyes, senior vice-president at the AAMC and general counsel, said the suit “is going to be fairly long and drawn out.”

Last Friday, the plaintiffs in the case submitted the formal complaint, called a class, explaining how their cause affects all schools using the Match program instead of just the 29 named.

The court now has to rule on whether or not this group of plaintiffs is able to represent the whole of students and schools involved in the suit or if they can just file suit regarding their complaints.

The defendants have until about March to respond to the plaintiffs, Keyes said.

In the interim, there will be a lot of “quizzing of plaintiffs,” he said. The current proceedings, Keyes said, “don’t even get to the merits of the case.”

It will not be until March of next year, during the pre-trial, when it will be decided whether or not the case should move on and how it might do so, Keyes explained.

If the judge decides against the plaintiffs’ class, then “there will be substantial diminution of motivation for this case to go forward,” Keyes said.

Keyes said he hopes the case does not move forward because he feels it has no merit and that residents are paid enough. “We think residents are primarily students. They are there to advance their education,” he said. “They work long hours and do get paid a stipend, not a salary.”

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