New Rule to Impose Restrictions on Residents’ Work Hours

There is a commonly held belief that working long hours leads to errors on the job. This belief is reflected in the restrictions on hours of service for truck drivers and airline pilots. One would suspect that all industries and professions that involve the health and safety of others would restrict the hours of the employ to avoid potentially costly mistakes, especially for newer workers who are just learning their profession.

This belief, however, isn’t necessarily held by everyone, specifically directors of medical residency programs.

In 2010, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education proposed and approved restrictions on the number of work hours for first-year medical residents, limiting them to 16 hour work days. While 16 hours may appear like a lot, there are concerns that the restrictions will do nothing to help with resident fatigue or prevent medical errors.

A survey of 464 residency program directors from around the county that appeared in Mayo Clinic Proceedings showed that a majority of the directors believed the restrictions would actually have deleterious effects on residents’ ability to care for patients and communicate with patients, among other things – 86 percent believed that patient care would either stay the same or worsen under the new rules.

Further, the results showed that the program directors did not believe the restriction on the number of hours worked would actually help with fatigue – 65 percent believe fatigue levels would not change and 6 percent believed fatigue would actually increase. There could be may explanations for these responses, but Darcy Reed, co-author of the study, told the Wall Street Journal, “Just because we schedule fewer hours doesn’t mean [the residents will] use them to rest.”

Medical mistakes can have particularly devastating consequences. If you have been injured at the hands of a fatigued or negligent doctor, resident or other medical staff, contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney in your area.