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Representing the injured in California and Nevada

New rules may change how long first-year doctors' shifts can be

Imagine if you are in a hospital emergency room. You are very sick and you don't know why. A first-year doctor who is on his or her 22nd hour of a 24-hour shift comes in to see you. Does that concern you? There will be other doctors who check his or her work. Does that help?

The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education has brought a proposal to the table. If the proposal is approved next February, first-year doctors will be allowed to work shifts that are 24 hours long. That's eight hours longer than what they are allowed to work now.

Next July is when the proposal would go into effect. That's when many medical school graduates would start their residencies. The reasoning for this schedule change is so the first-year doctors can work the same schedules as second- and third-year physicians. As doctors progress through their specialty training, they are allowed to work longer hours.

Doctors who are in their first year are called interns, while doctors who have passed their first year mark are called residents. In 2011 the Institute of Medicine completed a study of work-hour rules and patient safety. The ACGME made it to where interns could only work 16 hours consecutively and got rid of the 30-hour shifts that some interns were working.

The limits on work hours, according to some faculty, have resulted in patient care that is compromised due to patient handoffs. In other words, at the end of a shift, a patient's care is transferred over to another doctor. Instructors also say that the first 36 hours a patient is hospitalized is when the new doctors learn the best.

The new schedules seem to only cause a bit of dissatisfaction among the new doctors. However, Public Citizen, an advocacy group said that the latest proposal is "a dangerous step backward." The director of the Health Research Group at Public Citizen says, "Study after study shows that sleep-deprived resident physicians are a danger to themselves, their patients and the public."

As a patient, the thought of a doctor treating you who has been on duty for 24 hours straight might be a bit disconcerting. If you or a loved one is injured because of a doctors error, and you plan to seek compensation, your attorney will likely investigate how long the doctor had been working without time off.

Source: The Washington Post, "First-year doctors would be allowed to work 24-hour shifts under new rules," Lenny Bernstein, Nov. 04, 2016

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