New 24-hour rule for first-year residents now in effect

While most of us might not have realized it, a seismic change took place at hospitals around the nation this past weekend. Indeed, the change affects not just patient care, but the experience and education gained by treating physicians.

Specifically, as of last Saturday, the nation's roughly 30,000 first-year medical residents, meaning interns who have just graduated from medical school, can now work longer shifts under a new rule.

What exactly does this new rule dictate?

The new rule changes the number of hours that first-year residents can work in a given shift from a limit of 16 hours to 24 hours. Furthermore, they are also permitted to work an average max of 80 hours per week, meaning they can exceed the 24-hour limit.

Why did they change the limit from 16 hours to 24 hours?

The issue of the number of hours first-year residents should be permitted to work has been debated for decades, with the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, the governing body, trying to find the appropriate balance between providing strong training and strong patient care.

As for the recent rule change, it was done out of a recognition that with more patient handoffs between physicians comes greater opportunity for training interruptions and, more significantly, medical errors. It was also done to help first-year residents understand that medicine is more about providing patient care than performing shift work.

Is everyone on board with this rule change?  

Multiple advocacy groups have spoken out against the change, arguing that it will be detrimental to patients and first-year residents alike. Indeed, they point to a recent Harvard study that found first-year residents made nearly 36 percent more serious errors when working 24-plus hours.

What do first-year residents think?

Many have embraced the rule change, saying it will help them learn more, and be available for their patients who have come to trust their judgment and value their presence.

What are your thoughts?

If you've been seriously injured or lost a loved one due to what you suspect was medical malpractice, consider speaking with a skilled legal professional to learn more about your options.

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