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Proposed shift changes for young doctors

When television medical dramas show tired interns struggling to treat their hospital patients, these depictions might not be too far-fetched. Pennsylvania patients may like to know about a proposal that could extend shifts for some doctors in training from 16 hours to 28 hours.

After graduating medical school, first-year residents are allowed to work up to 16-hour shifts. This cap began in 2011 after evidence showed that exhausted residents pose a danger to themselves and patients. Research suggests that more errors may occur the longer a new resident works, and those who work extended shifts could create a danger on roadways when driving home after work.

Some doctors are in favor of the proposal because patient care may be jeopardized when residents are forced to leave. Longer shifts also prepare residents for practicing medicine unsupervised. Others cite an Institute of Medicine review from 2009 that concluded that shifts lasting more than 16 hours were hazardous for patients. Another study found that residents who worked for more than 24 hours in a Massachusetts hospital's intensive care unit made far more serious medical mistakes than those who worked shorter periods.

Residents who have more experience work 28-hour shifts, but this proposal would let any intern work more than 28 hours if needed to assist with a patient. The proposal also would end the requirement that residents receive eight hours off after shifts under 24 hours. A vote is expected in February 2017.

If a patient dies because of an error caused by a fatigued resident, a wrongful death suit could in some cases be filed by the patient's loved ones in order to seek compensation from the hospital. A medical malpractice attorney could provide advice as to the likelihood of the claim being successful.

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