New Doctors Will Now Be Allowed To Work 28 Hours In A Row – How Safe Is It?

Tired doctor holding his head on his hand while napping standing up.

New doctors will soon be allowed to work for up to 28 hours straight, which might beg the question the next time you see your doctor, “How long have you been up?”

The decision to let new doctors work such long hours was made by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME). The ACGME accredits the medical residency programs that new doctors participate in. The council recently studied the effects of a cap on hours for new doctors, and surprisingly came to the conclusion that an hour cap for new doctors had not improved patient care, and actually decreased a new doctor’s professional development in some cases. When the hour caps for new doctors were in place, they were only allowed to work a maximum of 16 hours in a single shift. When the cap is lifted, on July 1st, 2017, the regular shifts of new doctors will be limited to 24 hours, but can be lengthened to 28 hours in the event that a new doctor has to transition a patient into the care of another doctor. However, a new doctor’s total hours are limited to 80 per week.

As can be imagined, there are two sides to every story, and in the case of how many hours a new doctor is allowed to work, such is the case.

New Doctor Shifts Lengthened

Those that are against lifting the cap of new doctors’ hours wonder just how effective a new doctor – or any person – can be when they have been awake for a full two days. This is the thinking of Dr. Michael Carome, the director of the Public Citizen’s Health Research Group.

“The ACGME’s adoption of this dangerous proposal displays a reckless disregard for the lives and health of thousands of medical residents and their patients nationwide.”

Sleep deprivation from just a single night – as new doctors would regularly be exposed to – can lead to health issues, emotional issues, and decreased cognitive functions as described by Live Science.

“A person begins to fall into mini-snooze sessions, which last up to 30 seconds. Some people’s eyes remain open during microsleeps, but the disturbing thing about microsleeps is that during sleep, the person is essentially blind, even if their eyes are open. They’re not processing information.”

In addition to these ‘microsleeps,’ under the new rules, doctors will also be subject to such sleep deprivation effects as memory problems, moodiness, hallucinations, depression, a weakened immune system, weight gain issues, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure.

Additionally, being awake for 25 hours equals a.15 percent blood alcohol concentration according to a study published in Nature, which is above the legal B.A.C. limit to drive in most states.

New Doctor Shifts Lengthened

Despite all of these scientifically proven facts, the AGME has determined that the effects on a new doctor’s professional growth are more important than the effects on a new doctor’s mind and body.

“The Task Force [review panel] has determined that the hypothesized benefits associated with the changes made to first-year resident scheduled hours in 2011 have not been realized and the disruption of team-based care and supervisory systems has had a significant negative impact on the professional education of the first-year resident, and effectiveness of care delivery of the team as a whole.”

Some new doctors are in favor of lifting the cap on how long they can work. These new doctors claim that patients are comforted by the fact that they have a better chance of having a single doctor with them throughout their entire visit if the 16 hour shift cap isn’t in place. Still, the question has to be asked, would a patient be more comfortable with a doctor that is in the middle of an eight hour shift, or a new doctor that is on hour 25 of a 28 hour shift?

[Feature Image by Maksym Poriechkin/Shutterstock]