Surgical Residents Often Fatigued, Study Confirms

Although not startling, findings may have implications for patient safety

THURSDAY, May 24 (HealthDay News) -- Fatigue is a common problem among surgery residents, a small, new study finds.

A growing body of evidence suggests that fatigue may play a major role in medical errors, said Dr. Frank McCormick, of the Harvard Orthopaedic Combined Residency Program and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, and colleagues.

Their study included 27 orthopedic surgery residents who slept an average of 5.3 hours a day, with average individual amounts of sleep ranging from 2.8 hours to 7.2 hours.

Overall, the residents were functioning at less than 80 percent mental effectiveness due to fatigue during an average of 48 percent of their time awake. They also were functioning at less than 70 percent mental effectiveness due to fatigue for an average of 27 percent of their time awake.

Residents on the night shift slept an average of 5.1 hours daily and had higher levels of fatigue than those on the day shift, who slept an average of 5.7 hours daily.

The study appears in the May issue of the journal Archives of Surgery.

The finding that residents suffer fatigue "during certain periods is not startling, but its pervasiveness is a finding we simply cannot avoid and may have paid lip service to in the past. It is unlikely that the data in this study will be refuted," Dr. Thomas Tracy Jr., of Hasbro Children's Hospital and Brown University in Providence, R.I., wrote in an accompanying editorial.

More information

The U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality outlines how patients can protect themselves from medical errors.

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