JOURNAL ARTICLE

Residents' working hours in a consortium-wide surgical education program

Vijay Mittal, Madhavi Salem, James Tyburski, Joseph Brocato, Larry Lloyd, Yvan Silva, Allen Silbergleit, Charles Shanley, Stephen Remine
American Surgeon 2004, 70 (2): 127-31; discussion 131
15011914
Traditional work schedules of surgical residents have been cited as a factor that negatively influences education and the quality of patient care. Demands by federal and state legislators as well as the general public have forced a re-evaluation of the issue. Long working hours and resulting sleep deprivation affect the lives of residents profoundly, but the question remains does it lower the quality of medical care? The justification for the long hours is that they are vital to medical education, but residents are so drained by their schedules that they are rarely in the best state of mind to learn from their experiences. Under the scrutiny of the Resident Review Committee (RRC), many programs and institutions have been cited in the recent past in violation of resident working hour requirements. As a result, many institutions have implemented reforms, thereby reducing the number of citations they received. In spite of having the highest number of citations, the field of general surgery has failed to show any improvement. The Oakland Health Education Programme Center for Medical Education (OHEP), a consortium of 16 teaching hospitals in the State of Michigan, set out to review the components of general surgery residency training in order to be able to make recommendations that might assist program directors in making appropriate changes where necessary to enhance resident education and the quality of patient care as well as to meet the personal demands of residents. Questionnaires on residents' attitudes concerning their working hours and possible reforms were sent to all general surgery residency programs in the OHEP consortium. The questionnaire consisted of 25 questions divided into three major sections: the first section encompassed demographic information including current work hours and on-call schedules. The second section consisted of questions relating to attitudes toward work hours and the options for change. The third section consisted of questions that viewed the perceived effects of limited work hours. From the seven participating hospitals with surgery residency programs in OHEP, 92 residents responded to our survey. The majority of residents were in the first 3 years of postgraduate training. The mean age of residents was 30 years old. Sixty-four per cent of respondents were male, and 18 per cent were female. Residents reported an average of 56 with a range of 0 to 110 hours on call. Variations in the number of hours had to do with the various rotations residents were on, in that during certain elective rotations, residents were not assigned to any call. The on-call schedule varied; alternate nights were reported by 11 per cent, every third night by 33 per cent, and every fourth night or more by 53 per cent. The majority of surgical residents did express the need for reform and did not feel that reforms would affect the quality of resident education. However, residents did not want to lengthen residency training beyond the 5 years. The results of our study indicates that the majority of residents in general surgery programs in Michigan perceive a need for reform of work schedules. Surgical educators may have underestimated this need in the past. Most residents thought that long hours impaired their educational experience and at times compromised their clinical care.

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