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Bleary-eyed doctors may be better for patients

Let's say your mother requires a colon resection due to a small cancer and has to be admitted to one of two hospitals in town. Both are well-respected teaching hospitals full of surgery residents - young doctors who have recently completed medical school and are training under the supervision of experienced surgeons. In both hospitals, the residents work no more than 80 hours a week. But in one, the residents sometimes work for 30-hour stretches, while in the other, they are not allowed to work more than 16 hours at a time.

Which hospital would you send your mother to? Obviously the second hospital, where the surgical residents are better rested. Right?

Wrong. Last week, the New England Journal of Medicine published results from the FIRST (for "Flexibility in Duty Hour Requirements for Surgical Trainees") Trial, a multicenter, randomized study of different work schedules for surgery residents. It revealed that patients were just as safe when restrictions on resident physicians' shift lengths were eliminated.

What's more, the residents working without the restrictions were much less likely to hand off care of a patient in the middle of an operation or recovery to another resident who didn't know the patient as well. Also, the doctors working the longer hours were less likely to believe their shifts would compromise patient safety or their development into capable surgeons.

See the full article published in the Philadelphia Inquirer by David Asch and Sanjay Desai here:


Kelsey Bennett