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Are doctors’ sleep habits killing patients?

It is a known fact that doctors in New York and elsewhere work long hours to treat their patients, and their efforts are appreciated by many. However, we also understand that it is important for everyone to be well rested in order to do their jobs safely and effectively. For physicians, a good night’s sleep may be more important than ever. Unfortunately, the workload that is often placed on medical professionals, especially those in hospitals, may be hazardous to their patients’ health.

The New York Times reports that the hours put in by medical residents in particular may contribute to numerous potentially harmful medical errors. Doctors in training traditionally worked shifts as long as 36 hours, and some were on call nearly every day of the week. You can imagine how this type of sleep deprivation might affect you if you visited the emergency room for a serious injury or health issue and were seen by a doctor who had not slept in over 24 hours. A study conducted at Brigham and Women’s Hospital revealed that there were 36 percent more medical mistakes among interns who had 30-hour shifts than those who had more normal work hours.

In New York, physicians in training are restricted to an 80-hour work week. However, these hours are still significantly more than most people work in a week. If you feel exhausted at the end of a 40-hour week, imagine how tired a busy surgeon or emergency room doctor might feel. It could literally be life-saving for the medical profession to re-examine the hours physicians typically put in each week.

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