Resident Physicians Put at Risk by Long Hours, Overworked

Pressure continues to build on government regulators to limit the work hours of resident doctors. The national advocacy group Public Citizen recently presented the U.S. Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration with a petition urging the agency to act to protect both patients and physicians from the risks posed by overwork and fatigue.

Dangers to Patients, Public and Physicians

The assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, Dr. David Michaels, said in a statement, "We are very concerned about medical residents working extremely long hours, and we know of evidence linking sleep deprivation with an increased risk of needle sticks, puncture wounds, lacerations, medical errors and motor vehicle accidents."

Michaels added that doctor fatigue "can lead to tragic mistakes, endangering workers, patients and the public."

Resident physicians are medical school graduates obtaining specialized training at a hospital by caring for patients under supervision of experienced doctors.

Public Citizen's Demands

Public Citizen's petition contained several requests for limits on the number of hours resident physicians can work.

  • Limiting residents' work hours to 80 per week
  • Limiting residents to 16 consecutive hours of work in a shift
  • Requiring at least one 24-hour period of time off per week; also at least one 48-hour period of time off per month
  • A minimum of at least 10 hours off work after a day shift; a minimum of 12 hours off duty following a night shift

Doctors at Risk

Doctors forced to work extremely long hours are themselves at increased risks of injuries and deaths when they're doing activities that are more mundane: a survey in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that six out of seven surgical resident doctors had fallen asleep while driving to and from work.

According to Public Citizen, research shows that exhausted residents are at higher risks of being not only in car crashes, but also from suffering depression, complications in pregnancy, sleep disorders and other health problems.

If you are a resident physician who has suffered an injury or illness caused by overwork and resultant fatigue, contact a Denver, Colorado workers' compensation attorney for an evaluation of the facts of your case. A workers' compensation lawyer understands how labor laws apply to your circumstances and can explain your legal options.