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Shorter work days adopted for rookie doctors

Associated Press / September 30, 2010

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CHICAGO — Rookie doctors will be getting shorter work shifts, along with stricter supervision, but a medical student group said yesterday that the changes don’t do enough to protect sleep-deprived residents and their patients.

The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education’s board of directors approved new rules on Tuesday for more than 110,000 new doctors training at US hospitals. The idea is to improve patient safety and reduce errors caused by junior doctors working extremely long hours.

The biggest change affects interns — doctors in their first year of medical residency. Their work-shift limit is being cut from 24 hours to 16 hours, and “strategic napping’’ is strongly recommended. The maximum shift length remains 24 hours for residents in their second year of training and beyond.

Also, medical residents are to tell patients they’re being supervised by more experienced physicians, and the hierarchy should be spelled out to patients.

The American Medical Student Association had sought substantial across-the-board work-hour reductions and argues that there’s no reason to give first-year residents a break but not others. The medical student group, joined by other advocacy groups, earlier this month asked the government’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration to look into work hours for doctors-in-training.

Association official Sonia Lazreg said the rules mostly mirror a draft proposal but with one important change. The draft said second-year residents and beyond could be on call only one in every three nights. The final rules say that can be averaged over four weeks, which she said weakens the provision.

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