The 80 Hour Work Week Is Only The Beginning

Opinion2.jpgFor those of you who don’t know. The 80 hour work week is a relatively new limitation for resident physicians in training. This rule was put into effect a few years ago to prevent sleep deprivation among physicians in training. The rule was meant to curtail medical errors such as incorrect prescriptions, wrong procedures, or any time of malpractice that is more likely to occur when a physician does not have enough sleep.

Some of us trained in medicine at a time when there were no work hour restrictions. 100 plus hour work weeks were a norm. Taking call every night or every other night was standard. It was felt that continuous care of patients would train the physician in continuous medicine. Residency programs produced fatigued but well trained physicians.

Fast-forward to today and the climate for medical education has changed. Students now seek medical careers for lifestyle considerations and good hours. Anesthesiology, Emergency Medicine, Dermatology, Plastic Surgery – those are the popular specialties with perceived good hours and a good lifestyle.

Among the halls of hospitals, many old school physicians still grumble and jokingly mention that residents must go home or they will “violate” work hour restrictions.

I do feel for these doctors. After all, they had brutal residency training programs and now the current generation of physician residents appear to them must “softer”. Unfortunately, the 80 hour work week is only the beginning of equalization of medicine compared to other specialties. Sexual harassment and inappropriate general conduct are the next frontiers of medicine that will be cracked down on. Pretty soon, attendings won’t be able to yell at residents and call them names without getting written up for abusive behavior. The 360 degree evaluation that residents receive will go all the way to the top of the food chain.

It is only a matter of time that the medical workplace will become regulated to ensure that all are treated equally and fairly.


Dr. JC is a medical doctor who has a passion for health promotion and education.
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