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Would you trust a doctor on a 28-hour shift?

The experts say you shouldn’t drive a car without a full eight hours of sleep. Would you perform a medical procedure?

The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME), an organization that oversees residency requirements for doctors in training has suggested changing the maximum shift from 16 hours to 28 — working over two days straight. The proposal recently closed to public comments and is set for review in February 2017.

Sleep impairment and reduced reaction

Many studies of driver behavior show that sleep deprivation causes serious impairment to the senses. According to an Australian research group, being awake for 18 hours (10 hours fewer than the new proposal for doctors) is comparable to a .05 blood alcohol concentration. After 24 hours, that jumps to .10, which is above the legal driving limit. Even a slightly reduced sleep scheduled hurts reaction and awareness. Car accidents for those sleeping 6-7 hours per night are almost double those who sleep 8 hours or more.

Comparing drivers to doctors isn’t a perfect match, but there is ample evidence that sleep deprivation hurts your ability to trust your senses. Reliability and top of your game cognitive and motor skills are core traits in a physician.

Resident doctors

Residents in training are not yet fully licensed physicians and aren’t held to the same labor standards as licensed practitioners, which means that hours and shifts are less regular than for more senior hospital and clinic staff. As they gain important in-the-field experience, they face demanding schedules.

Generally speaking, it’s difficult to regulate shifts and sleep requirements for a profession. In the case of physicians and resident doctors, though, it’s a matter of public health and not an overzealous government agency.

Less sleep means additional risk

With countless studies showing the many dangers of sleep deprivation, it’s concerning that those in a position to save lives are subject to work irregular and perilously long shifts. The studies comparing lack of sleep to drunkenness aren’t exact: different faculties are effected by alcohol than rest, but any test that renders response time too slow to drive a vehicle suggests serious impairment and risk.

JAMA reports that medical negligence is the third leading cause of death in the US. The longer the hours a doctor works, it increases the chance of something going wrong. Doctors perform important work: saving and improving lives each day. It’s important to make sure they can do so under the best circumstances possible. Anyone who has been injured through medical negligence should consult with an attorney to see what can be done to rectify the unfortunate situation.

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