Medical residents work some of the longest shifts in the workplace. Some doctors-to-be can work 100 hours a week with as many as 36 hours without sleep. Residents have long argued that this puts their own health, and the health of their patients, at risk. One study reports that staying awake for 24 hours straight can impair performance as much as a .10 percent blood-alcohol level. ABC News reported that forty-one percent of doctors polled cited fatigue as the cause of their most serious medical mistakes. In one third of medical mistakes, a patient died as a result of the error. New rules proposed by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education would limit the total hours medical residents can be on duty to 80 hours per week. Under the new rules, residents would get at least 10 hours of rest between shifts and would not be allowed to work more than 24 hours straight. The new rules would take effect in July 2003.
This article originally appeared in The Ergonomics Report™ on 2002-07-01.