No Doctor Should Work 30 Straight Hours Without Sleep

Dec 25, 2016

By James Hamblin

When Larry Schlachter was a 31-year-old neurosurgeon, he was driving to the hospital early one morning and “just blacked out.” He crashed his car and crushed his chest; broken ribs punctured his thorax, which filled with air and blood. “I almost died.”

Instead he was left with 14 fractured bones and a lingering loss of balance. He attributes the blackout to working 120-hour weeks that left him often on the brink of awareness. He put it to me clinically: “I was a victim of physician fatigue and exhaustion.”

Getting five or six hours of sleep—substantial by many physicians’ self-standards—can leave drivers impaired to a degree that’s similar to drunkenness. That’s according to findings of a study released this month from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety: Drivers who sleep only five or six hours in a 24-hour period are twice as likely to crash as those who got seven or more.


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2 comments on “No Doctor Should Work 30 Straight Hours Without Sleep

  • 1
    Cairsley says:

    One would think medical professionals, of all people, would know the importance of sleep for good health and work performance. Has the problem been that those who make the decisions about employment of medical professionals are not themselves medical professionals? Another part of the problem seems to be the conservatism of the medical hierarchy, whereby those entering the medical profession at its lowest ranks are expected, according to long-established tradition, to work like slaves, regardless of requirements of health and safety. A Carthusian monk, who rises in the middle of each night for two or three hours of service in church, lives under much saner and healthier conditions than junior medical professionals do.



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  • He attributes the blackout to working 120-hour weeks that left him often on the brink of awareness. He put it to me clinically: “I was a victim of physician fatigue and exhaustion.”

    Getting five or six hours of sleep—substantial by many physicians’ self-standards—can leave drivers impaired to a degree that’s similar to drunkenness. That’s according to findings of a study released this month from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety: Drivers who sleep only five or six hours in a 24-hour period are twice as likely to crash as those who got seven or more.

    Comparing Medical staff with drivers makes a good point.
    Tiredness can kill in any of these professions!

    For commercial drivers there are enforced record keeping and enforced rules”

    https://www.gov.uk/drivers-hours/eu-rules

    The main EU rules on driving hours are that you must not drive more than:

    9 hours in a day – this can be extended to 10 hours twice a week
    56 hours in a week
    90 hours in any 2 consecutive weeks




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