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New rules limit hours for first-year medical residents

We already know how sleeping longer can markedly improve physical performance in young basketball players. So how about sleep-deprived medical residents? Starting today, first-year medical residents will get a little more shut-eye thanks to new rules put forth by theAccreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. The rules, which limit residents to 16-hour work shifts (second- and third-year residents will still be allowed to work 28-hour shifts at a time), hope to prevent and reduce medical errors that may cause patient harm. It's believed that sleepy interns make more mistakes.

Resident work hours have long been debated. A segment today on NPR's Morning Edition takes a look at both sides of the argument. Lucien Leape, MD, from the Harvard School of Public Health, supports the change but thinks it should apply to all medical residents and that hours should even be cut back to 12-hour shifts:

"There's very little evidence that more hours are better, and there's a lot of evidence that it's harmful to patients and residents."... All resident shifts, he says, should be limited to 12 hours.

"One of the most disturbing things" about the new rules, he says, is that the new shift limit of 16 hours applies only to first-year residents.

"This is not based on science. The evidence is clear that you don't learn to handle sleep deprivation," he says. "It's ill-conceived."

Emil Oweis, MD, an internal medicine resident at Washington Hospital Center, isn't so quick to hit that snooze button: "I would say I'm one of a lot of people who are opposed to it. Despite the pain of the long hours, you do learn."

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