Medical Residents Need More Sleep!

I work at a health science center and deal directly with medical residents.  I update web pages for them and when I meet with them face-to-face, they are usually bright and alert.  But, it may not be the case of the majority of residents.

I know from updating some of our web pages that there are rules in place to make sure residents get enough time off to rest.  I mean, they are only human, right?  Well, some seem to be superhuman, or at least think they are and that may be a problem.

In 2003, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education set rules in place nationally that required that residents limit work shifts to a certain amount of time.  That rule was tightened last year – to no more than a 16-hour shift for a first year resident and no more than a 28-hour shift for others.

Now we all know the thing about rules – they are made to be broken, right?  Well, it seems that some residents are still doing this.  In 2008, a survey of three hospitals showed that about 87 percent of all residents work more than the maximum shift hours.

You might think “Aw, they are young – they can work long hours without it affecting them,” but have you really thought about it?  Residents work with patients and a study by JAMA found that interns that didn’t get a five hour break between shifts ended up sleeping less than two hours a night.  Do you really want a resident working on you that is going on two hours of sleep?  The whole shift maximum was brought about 18-year-old Libby Zion died in 1984 because two overworked interns misdiagnosed her illness and treatment.

The rules are really for the residents – and your – own protection.  Humans need rest to function properly and residents, as busy as they are, probably need more than the average person does.  Of course, they are busy, so they won’t get a lot of sleep, but the rules ensure that the get enough to minimize changes of errors made due to sleep deprivation.