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First-Year Medical Residents Asked to Sleep More, Work Less

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The tradition of having first-year medical residents work 24-hour shifts has long raised concerns that sleep deprivation has caused errors that harmed or killed patients. Acknowledging those possibilities, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education has placed a restriction on teaching hospitals that limits first-year residents to working no longer than 16 consecutive hours. Second- and third-year residents are still permitted to work 24-hour shifts.

The decision to limit the time first-year residents can spend seeing and treating patients was made to improve patient safety, but some are concerned that the restriction might actually produce less-prepared doctors. “These first-year residents need training under their belt,” Chairman of the Department of Surgery at EVMS and president of the American College of Surgeons Dr. L.D. Britt told the Virginian-Pilot. He doesn’t want the restrictions to “dumb down their profession.”

Doctors have much to learn, so it is important that they get enough practical experience. Still, hospitals all over the nation are abiding these new restrictions to keep their accreditation. The health care facilities are also complying with rules to provide more direct supervision to residents and to ensure trainee doctors have access to “call rooms” in hospitals where they can get some peace and quiet and even catch up on sleep. Instruction of residents now includes information about the effects of sleep deprivation, as well.

There was a case in 1989 in which an 18-year-old college freshman died whike under the care of overworked medical residents. Soon after, New York passed the Libby Zion Law, which restricts residents in the state to working no more than 80 hours a week.

As a Virginia (VA) personal injury lawyer, I see cases medical malpractice almost every day. I cover various forms of doctors mistakes, which include surgical errors, misdiagnoses and negligent care. Instances of malpractice due to lack of sleep should not occur.

SL

About the Editors: The Shapiro, Cooper, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm, which has offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as pro bono services.