Published On: Tue, Jun 27th, 2017

Medical Residents’ Hours Set to Increase, But at What Cost to Safety and Health?

In 2011, first-year medical residents were not authorized to work any more than 16 consecutive hours at a time at their teaching hospitals. But, a new change is not only allowing up to 24 hours of work time, but overseers of medical residency programs believe the change is necessary for giving residents the proper medical training. Starting in July, first-year residents can expect 24-hour shifts plus up to four hours to complete their paperwork.

Medical Residents

Long Work Hours and Increased Health Risks

Those against the increased hours believe that the more extended hours healthcare professionals work, the more risk of safety and health effects on both them and their patients. They aren’t wrong; According to The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety, nurses that work more than 13 consecutive hours have up to 3.3 times more likeliness to cause an error that can potentially harm a patient. Training physicians also note an increased risk of injury to themselves, like a two-fold increase of being involved in a car accident driving home after a shift, when they often work 24-hour shifts.   

Sleep deprivation plays a significant role in the increased risk of injury or mistakes by healthcare workers who work long hours. But, long shifts are also responsible for affecting the overall health and safety of doctors and nurses. One study found that consistent fatigue of overworked nurses can contribute to obesity, hormone alteration, and reduced immune function. It can also lead to an increased risk of mistakes that can harm a patient or the healthcare worker. 

Keeping the Health of Healthcare Workers in Check

The new change isn’t required; instead, it’s at the discretion of each hospital. Some hospitals choose to hire more staff rather than schedule their current team for longer hours. Others create innovative schedules to maximize productivity without overworking staff or limit the number of hours their employees can work in a week. 

Fortunately, hospitals require proper attire for their healthcare workers, like the best shoes for nurses and other health professionals with traction to avoid slips and falls. Extreme fatigue can cause healthcare workers to think less clearly than they normally would, so the maximum safety within the workplace environment can significantly contribute to workers’ safety. 

Additionally, most hospitals place the well-being of their medical staff as a top priority. Hospitals provide safety features and benefits, like non-skid floors, bright lighting, and rooms for short breaks or naps throughout a shift, which can help give health care workers the stimulation needed to remain alert throughout their long shifts. Exercise rooms within hospitals may also provide workers with the energy they need to sustain proper safety practices for themselves and their patients.

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