February 25, 2011 / 2:24 AM / in 9 years

Surgery residents often work longer than allowed

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - More than 6 out of 10 U.S. surgical residents work more hours than safety regulations allow, according to a study.

Rules intended to ensure patient safety and improve medical education state that residents — physicians in training who already have completed some time as an intern — must not work more than 80 hours a week, must take a day off once a week and must take a 10-hour break between shifts.

The study of 144 residents around the United States led by Celia Divino, chief of general surgery at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City, found that more than one third did not take long enough breaks between shifts.

One in five worked more than 90 hours a week, added the study, published in the Archives of Surgery.

“It’s a big challenge to comply with these duty hour regulations,” Divino told Reuters Health.

“You can’t, in the middle of an operation, say OK, I have to go.”

Being involved in emergency cases was, in fact, one of the most common causes for working past the allowable hours. Some specialities, such as trauma and vascular surgery, were more prone to overtime work.

The work rules were put into place nationally in 2003, but Divino said her survey showed it wasn’t easy to follow them, largely because patients’ needs evolve throughout the day and night and it was difficult to hand off care.

“These findings will help restructure training programs in efforts to increase compliance with the work-hour regulation,” Divino and her colleagues wrote.

At Mount Sinai, for example, the computer system will block a resident from putting in a patient order if they have exceeded their work hours, Divino said.


Reporting by Kerry Grens at Reuters Health; editing by Elaine Lies

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