Not too long ago, surgeons during their training routinely worked over 100 hours a week; there is a reason they were call “house” officers.
After a tragic incident in 1984 many programs changed to mandatory work hours which limited the amount of time residents could spend in the hospital. And while it intuitively makes sense that if residents work fewer hours, they will be safer, there was no data that actually supported that concept. In fact, given that the reduction on work hours would necessarily create additional hand offs between on coming and off going residents, some people even hypothesized that reducing work hours would decrease patient safety. Further, there was a concern that by reducing work hours residency programs would produce less experienced physicians.
Almost thirty years later, the first study that actually looked at the effect of resident work hours on patient safety was just produced in the New England Journal of Medicine (here).
And the results? It doesn’t matter. There appears to be no effect on patient safety based on resident work hours. The study did not look at the effect of work hours on resident preparation for the real world so the debate will likely continue…