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Revolution in medical education: a 16-hour limit on the time doctors-in-training can work on a given shift
Harvard University's teaching hospital is introducing what would seem to be a common-sense move but is really a revolution in medical education: a 16-hour limit on the time doctors-in-training can work on a given shift. The decision was bolstered by two in-house studies showing that shorter work shifts for interns reduce treatment errors. Internship is an important step in medical education that gives young doctors the experience to go out on their own. Decades ago, interns literally lived at the hospital, on call at any time and for any length of time. "When I was in training, we worked 120 hours a week," said Dr. Andy Whittemore, chief medical officer at Brigham and Women's Hospital, where Harvard Medical School graduates train and practice, informs Forbes. According to Reuters, the researchers, led by Charles Czeisler at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, found that interns working more than 80 hours a week committed 36 percent more serious medical errors than interns who kept a less arduous schedule. When it came to diagnosing illness, the sleep-deprived interns made 5.6 times more serious mistakes than their rested colleagues, the research showed. Most of the intern errors were caught by nurses, pharmacists and senior members of the medical staff before permanent harm was done. Christopher Landrigan, another author of the study, said the length of the study was too short to prove whether all the extra errors translated into more deaths and disability. He said the medical community has traditionally kept long work shifts in the belief that extended hours in the hospital are needed to maintain the continuity of care. "We tested that belief and found it was not true," Czeisler said.
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