Despite New Rules, Medical Interns Still Face Long Hours

A new study released just recently has indicated that, despite major rules changes enacted in 2003 to put an end to long work hours, interns are still working long hours. In the study, 80 percent of interns have stated that they violate mandatory standards placed on their workplace schedules. The survey covered over 4,000 interns across the New Rules.

In 2003, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education refined its standards for medical interns. New rules were set forth due to the rising concern that mistakes in judgment and health care decisions were being made due to a lack of adequate rest under the then current conditions. The council was also concerned about the overall health of the students partaking is extremely tedious work schedules.

The new standards limited interns to working no longer than 30 hours straight. They also stated that the students were not allowed to work more than an average of 80 hours a week over a 4 week period.

No Improvement Despite the newly implemented rules, a study at Boston ‘s Brigham and Women’s hospital indicated that no improvements in intern working conditions were made in 2004; the first year after the rules took effect. 2005 appears to be the same, if not worse than the previous year. Even though new rules were implemented, there appears to be no effect on working conditions. The safety standards are comparable to those of other jobs requiring extensive hand eye coordination such as truckers and pilots. The study indicates that possible reasons for the lack of change include resistance to changes, emergencies, and lack of money.

A Second Study

Another study was completed at the same hospital and tracked accidental needle punctures. The mistakes are most commonly attributed to lack of sleep and expose interns to diseases. This survey was completed just before the new rules came into effect. Since the newest rules had little effect on interns actions it can be assumed the results of this study are still common.

Further Steps Are Needed

More steps need to be taken to ease the problems faced by interns presently. Number one on the priority list is federal legislation aimed at employers violating current rules and laws. Evidence indicates that shifts that exceed 12-16 hours endanger patients and cause interns to not perform to the best of their abilities. Any improvements that have been seen have been marginal at best and have mainly been seen in institutions which had 120 hour work weeks before the new rules took effect. The only locations in compliance with the law now are those which had lower hours before the rules. Despite the health care systems goal of helping patients, they are in fact putting them at increased risk by extending shifts beyond what is recommended.

More information on the study can be found in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

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