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A bid to shorten shifts for novice doctors

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010



There’s a new new push in the long-standing battle to lighten the load for rookie doctors.

July 1st is when the region’s newbie physicians officially begin their residency. That’s the notoriously grueling, years-long apprenticeship that turns generic doctors into specialists.

Under the proposed work changes, residents in their first year of training would be limited to 16-hour shifts.

Lisa Bellini is Vice Dean for Resident Affairs at Penn Medicine. She says shorter shifts create more patient hand offs and decrease continuity of care.

Bellini: There’s a strong feeling from people who run training programs and teach residents that the more hand offs you have the more likely it is that things get missed. You don’t see the evolution of somebody’s disease process.

The proposal is from the professional group that accredits residency programs across the country.

Bellini favors 24-hour shifts for interns and says a residency has to strike a balance so new doctors learn to test their limits. She says less on-the-job experience, means a less experienced doctor.

Some veteran doctors say: Ease up too much and rookies won’t get the training they need to operate in extraordinary circumstances.

Mark Woodland is residency director at Drexel University’s College of Medicine.

Woodland: The whole term ‘residency’ came about because physicians used to be in resident, they used to live in the hospital so they could gain experiential learning. We’re now cutting and carving away at that residency time which becomes a little problematic.

Woodland says new doctors need to learn to manage their fatigue and know when to ask for help to protect patient safety.


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