Due to the medical miracles they often perform, physicians are among the most-respected of all professionals. While doctors certainly play a significant role in improving and saving the lives of patients, it’s important to keep in mind that they are still human beings who have the same biological needs and limitations as the rest of us.
Until 2003, medical residents were routinely expected and required to work long and grueling hours and back-to-back shifts which often took a heavy physical and mental toll. Then, in 2003, amid mounting concerns and evidence of the harmful effects of sleep deprivation with regard to patient outcomes and residents’ health, working hour restrictions were enacted. Now, those restrictions are in jeopardy of being rolled back.
A study was recently conducted in which the working hour restrictions for residents in “58 surgical residency programs” were lifted. The patient outcome results of these residents were then compared against those of residents in 59 programs who abided by the restrictions. When comparing patient outcomes, the study’s authors concluded that “patients suffered no additional harm when doctors training to be surgeons were allowed to work longer shifts.”
Directors of residency programs throughout the country have long been in favor of rolling back the restrictions, often arguing that residents were forced to hand-off patients mid-operation and that the resident-patient relationship suffered. However, proponents of the restrictions, which include the American Medical Student Association, believe that residency work-hour restrictions are necessary to protect the safety and health of patients and residents alike.
According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, getting too little sleep can negatively impact an individual’s mood, performance and health. Specifically, sleep deprivation has been linked to concentration problems, delayed reaction times, lack of coordination, making poor decisions, forgetfulness and increased errors. When thinking about these possible side-effects in relation to a resident who is overly tired while operating on a patient, most people would likely agree that they support the current work-hour restrictions.
Source: NPR.org, “Study Suggests Surgical Residents Can Safely Work Longer Shifts,” Jordan Rau, Feb. 2, 2016
American Academy of Sleep Medicine, “Sleep Deprivation,” Feb. 11, 2016