As a resident physician at UC Irvine Medical Center, I spend 80 hours a week caring for some of the sickest patients in our area. I’m one of over 600 physicians at our institution who are now completing our training to become board-certified. It’s a privilege to do this work, and I came into it knowing it would be extremely challenging.
What I didn’t know was that one of the biggest obstacles of my residency would be finding an affordable place to live.
For two years now, we have been negotiating to achieve a $5,000 resident housing stipend for all resident physicians because I want incoming and future residents to have better living conditions than I had these past 3 years. I don’t want anyone else to go through the housing crisis I went through, particularly on top of the “normal” stress of resident life.
Because I couldn’t afford adequate housing, I settled into an apartment that, unbeknownst to me, had a laundry room two floors up from me that was not built to code. My apartment flooded three times within six months after the drainage pipe backed up and dirty water flooded through my walls and ceiling. The landlord never fixed the piping nor the waterlogged walls, leading to the growth of black mold. I had to find immediate temporary housing at a local hotel. Having no permanent home while working the night shift was the most stressful time during my three years of residency. I would go to bed in tears and was emotionally drained. A resident physician needs a home that is a safe haven for sleep, rest, and recuperation.
On top of paying rent for an apartment I wasn’t living in, I had to pay for the hotel, mold testing, and new clothing. On my day off each week, I would frantically search for apartments within my price range, a very difficult task. It took me over a month to find a decent apartment.
Many colleagues have also struggled to find affordable housing. Either they didn't have three times the monthly rent for a security deposit and had to find a roommate or guarantor, settled for subpar accommodations, or are spending over 50 percent of their take-home pay on rent.
How can we provide optimum care to our patients when we are worried about keeping a roof over our own heads?
The average rent in Orange County has increased nearly 7 percent this past year, with one bedroom apartments averaging $1,700 per month and two bedrooms averaging $2,400 per month. The university must provide financial support for housing so resident physicians can afford to live within 30 to 60 minutes of the hospital in order to reach our patients quickly in emergency situations.
I made it through my housing crisis, but I don’t want other residents to suffer the way I did. I pulled through by thinking about my patients, because at the end of the day, they matter most.
Residents and fellows have been bargaining with UCIMC administration in good faith for over 20 months now. The hospital leadership has a chance to support the residents and fellows who are responsible for so much of the patient care at UCIMC. Adequate housing helps us do our jobs and serve the community the best we can. We deserve housing in safe neighborhoods with realistic commutes, functional plumbing, roofs that don’t leak, and walls free of mold.
As the average rent increases more than our salaries year after year, it makes it harder to find the adequate affordable housing we need to be able to do our jobs effectively. UCIMC residents and fellows deserve a fair housing stipend.
A previous version of this article misspelled Jennifer Curtin's name.
Jennifer Curtin, MD, is an internal medicine resident at UCIMC and a member of the Committee of Interns and Residents/SEIU Healthcare - email@example.com