Some 300 interns who work in the public health care system and say they haven’t been paid in seven months protested Wednesday in front of the Social Security System, or Caja, in downtown San José.
According to Costa Rican law, medical interns working for the Caja should receive a scholarship equivalent to 36.6 percent of a general practitioner’s salary, about $440 per month.
The wage incentive has been in place since 1982.
Facing drastic budget constraints, Caja officials stopped paying the scholarships to the interns this year, and funds were transferred for use in management and administration of the institution, Caja President Ileana Balmaceda said at a press conference on Tuesday.
The Caja is facing an ongoing financial crisis that has prompted government-imposed measures to cut costs. Medical students, however, say they often work six days a week during the one-year internship, and they should be compensated for their efforts.
“This scholarship actually saves the Caja money because they don’t have to pay other professionals a full salary to do the job of 600 interns,” University of Costa Rica med student Fernando Morales said. “You have to take into account that a medical student, while working at an internship, has already completed all the course work.”
On Tuesday, Balmaceda was emphatic that interns are not Caja employees, and internships are a requirement for graduation.
“If interns go on strike, they are hurting themselves or their universities,” she said.
“Universities don’t have much involvement in the internship process, and the hospitals and health care centers decide intern schedules and duties,” Morales countered.
The Caja’s board of directors agreed to study the demands and respond in coming days.