New campaign: Docs in training shouldn't be dangerously fatigued

If you ever have to go to a hospital for treatment, the last thing you likely are thinking about is how your doctor feels.

It’s more important than you think. If you are tended to by a doctor in training (called medical residents, also known as resident physicians), chances are high that you will be treated by someone who is dangerously fatigued. Medical residents often work 30-hour shifts, sometimes 100 hours a week. Not only do they injure patients because they are so bleary-eyed, but they can harm themselves by sticking themselves with contaminated needles or crashing their cars on the way home.

Public Citizen, Mothers Against Medical Errors and other patient safety groups today launched a campaign to lower the number of hours medical residents are on duty. They sent a letter to the Accreditation Council on Graduate Medical Education, which oversees doctor training, and launched a Web site, www.WakeUpDoctor.org, to provide a forum for the public to tell stories and learn more about the problem.

“Considerable scientific evidence backs up what common sense tells me: that life and death decisions should not be made by someone who is sleep-deprived,” said Dr. John Ingle, a fourth-year ear, nose and throat resident at the University of New Mexico and regional vice president of the Committee of Interns and Residents/SEIU Healthcare. “My patients are consistently horrified when they learn that I haven’t gone to sleep since they saw me the previous day.”

Check out the campaign and urge decisionmakers to change the medical culture now.