CHICAGO (CBS) -- Medical students are fighting an effort to increase shifts for first-year residents, citing research showing the dangers of long hours and quality of life.
Students visited the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education at 401 N. Michigan Av. to deliver petitions with 67,000 signatures opposing a plan to lift the 16-hour cap on shifts for first-year residents. The cap was put in place in 2011.
"The restriction was put on a few years back to limit them to 16 hours. They're brand-new physicians. They're young. They're just figuring out how to be doctors," said Kelsey Bourgeois, a campaign organizer with Care2, a social networking organization for activists.
The ACGME proposal would extend the cap on consecutive hours worked to 28 – 24 hours plus four hours to transition patients to another doctor.
"The proposal right now is to allow first-year residents to work the same as other residents, meaning they can work up to 28 hours," Bourgeois' said.
Her husband, Isaac, is a first-year neurology resident at Northwestern University's McGaw Medical Center.
"On day one, I was immediately making – with appropriate supervision, of course – life and death medical decisions, and feeling completely overwhelmed, and essentially unprepared, where all I'd done before was practice medicine on tests and in practice settings," he said.
Dr. Bourgeois said it's a matter of making sure new doctors are not making mistakes because they're sleep-deprived.
"What we all know that is we are not operating at our best when we're not sleeping," he said. "Different studies have had different results; many finding increases in medical errors, others finding that there aren't increases in medical errors."
Opponents also said it's a matter of reduced quality of life for doctors forced to work more than a day at a stretch.
The ACGME board is expected to vote on the proposed change in first-year resident hours in the next few weeks.
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