Physician, Heal Thyself of Sleep Deprivation

Sleep deprivation by surgeons needs addressing suggests Canadian Medical Association

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Surgeons work in a hospital environment where some patients often require around the clock care. Often times, surgeons do not get adequate sleep during their work shift. While this is part of their training during residency and in private practice, it may affect results.

A recent Canadian study found that to ensure patient safety, maximum work hour standards need to be in place for residents and private practice surgeons.

"Ask your surgeon if he slept last night."

Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) editors Drs. Noni MacDonald, Paul Hébert, Ken Flegel and Matthew Stanbrook report that this sleep deprivation issue in surgeons may only be getting worse.

They write that medical care today is more multifactorial than in years past. This increased complexity of care required from healthcare professionals who care for patients at the bedside and in operating rooms requires complete concentration and alertness from the doctors delivering hospital care.

The editors continue to admit that they as doctors are part of the problem. Doctors are trained to endure long shifts of duty and continue to do so during private practice. The editors recommend that long periods of call shouldn't be a source of pride for doctors and standards need to change.

They continue to suggest that governing boards, insurance companies and government standards committees should get together to establish maximum work loads for surgeons and minimum sleep requirements.

The Canadian study indicated that a surgeon's lack of sleep can result in higher rates of surgical complications if  less than six hours of sleep was had by the surgeon the preceding night.

Doctors should probably not be practicing post-call as they may not be at optimal levels of mental acuity due to fatigue.

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Review Date: 
May 30, 2011
Last Updated:
June 4, 2011