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By Robert Geimer

For many years physicians in training, called residents, worked brutally long shifts, barely sleeping over the course of days.  As the workhorses of medical care in hospitals, this justifiably led to concerns over errors due to the dangerous combination of inexperience and sleep deprivation.  This resulted in rule changes limiting residents to no more than 28 straight hours at the hospital, and 14 hours off after working a 24 hour shift.  However, a study in this week’s New England Journal of Medicine has concluded that the reduced resident hours have not impacted patient safety, and is therefore recommending returning to the brutally long shifts of the past.  Groups such as the American Medical Student Association are opposing such a rollback, pointing to the “overwhelming” evidence of the dangers of sleep deprivation.  In the middle of all of this are hospital patients who expect – and pay for – medical professionals to be at their best.

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