Do the Long Shifts of Young Physicians Affect Patient Care?

Throughout history, resident physicians and those in their first few years of practice are known to work consecutive days under fatigue, stress, and sleep deprivation. In 2011, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education banned 30-hour work shifts, creating a limit of 16 hours consecutively. They believed the shorter hours would prevent mistakes brought on by exhaustion and patient safety would improve.

A new study is bringing back this idea that trainees learn better by following a patient’s case for the first 36 hours after hospital admission. Over the next four years, half of the 6,000 trainees (residents, 2nd & 3rd year doctors) in the study will follow the current work hour rules and the other half are allowed to work as long as 30 hours consecutively. It is believed that the handoffs of patient from physician to physician due to shorter shifts hurts patient safety. All physicians and patients involved in the study will not be informed that they are participating in an experiment, as it was determined that there was “minimal risk”.

Residents are not happy with the study, saying that they did not know they would be working such long hours when they selected the job, and it is very hard to function 30 hours in a row. Also, the Public Citizen’s Health Research Group agrees that there are risks in the long hours and patients and doctors should be informed about the experimental study and be allowed to opt out of it. If the results of the study show no impact on patient health and safety, the work-hour restrictions may be loosened.
Bernstein, Lenny. “Some new doctors are working 30-hour shifts at hospitals around the U.S.” Health & Science. The Washington Post, 28 Oct 2015. Web. 1 Nov 2015.

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