- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 6, 2005

Study bolsters previous concerns


CHICAGO — The long workweeks of doctors in training leave them so fatigued that their reaction times are comparable to someone who is slightly drunk, researchers said yesterday.

Resident doctors on a “heavy call” schedule that can require a 90-hour workweek performed more poorly on a driving simulation test than those on a “light call” rotation averaging 44 hours a week who then drank liquor until their blood alcohol level reached .05 percent, the study said.

Drivers with a .08 percent blood alcohol level are considered drunk.

The research echoes a previous study that found interns who worked heavy schedules made 50 percent more mistakes with patients and committed 22 percent more serious errors in critical care units.

A survey of resident doctors also found they were three times more likely than average people to have been involved in a motor vehicle crash.

New rules enacted in 2003 lowered the weekly work schedules for U.S. doctors-in-training to a maximum of 80 hours, the report said.

“Residents must be aware of post-call performance impairment and the potential risk to personal and patient safety,” study author Todd Arnedt of the University of Michigan wrote in this week’s issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“Because sleepy residents may have limited ability to recognize the degree to which they are impaired, residency programs should consider these risks when designing work schedules and develop risk-management strategies for residents, such as considering alternative call schedules or providing post-call napping quarters,” he wrote.

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