The public would prefer you to not be tired

The public apparently likes the 16-hour shift cap:

After people hear arguments both in favor and against eliminating the 16-hour shift limit, voters’ opposition holds firm at 86%, 79% strongly opposed,” she said. “Eight in 10 would support decreasing the shift limits for second-year residents from 28 hours to 16 hours as well.

These are results from a probably biased Public Citizen survey, a group that vocally opposes the FIRST and iCompare trials that are testing loosening the shift restrictions in surgery and medicine programs across the country.

What I find confusing is that the contemporary discussion always centers on whether or not shift limits are good for residents and/or for patient care. But this focus is always on the impact of shift length on acute fatigue and sleep-deprivation. Nothing about total shift burden, especially when you know that the residents in these studies aren’t magically conforming to the 80-hour rules that are frequently ignored.

I don’t know about most residents, but one imagines a physician to be a lot more likely to do okay on a long shift if (s)he weren’t chronically fatigued working 80+ hours a week. The focus on shift length I think misses the larger and probably more important issue about general overwork, burnout, and chronic fatigue. It’s like being worried about how fresh the oil is in a car without a transmission.

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