In 2003, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education limited the number of hours resident surgeons could spend working to 80 per week. Before those limits were established, surgeons in training commonly worked more than 100 hours per week, which left many exhausted and, in some cases, caused fatigue-related mistakes that might otherwise have been avoided.

As new research shows, however, those 100-plus-hour weeks also allowed surgeons to complete 520 more surgical procedures per year of training than 80-hour weeks do. The new restrictions mean that surgeons are entering practice with less experience than they once had, and of course, this lack of experience can also lead to serious mistakes.

The debate over how to balance the need for extensive experience with the need for sleep and rest rages on in the medical field, but as long as the current restrictions remain, surgeons in training must maximize the benefits they can from the hours they are allowed to work.

About Dr. Gustavo Stringel:

A surgeon with more than 30 years of experience, Dr. Gustavo Stringel has studied the changes that surgeons’ training schedules have undergone in recent years. Dr. Stringel published an article on this issue, “Making the Most of the Hours We Have Left,” which he delivered as President of the Society of Laparoendoscopic Surgeons in 2010.

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