According to a new study the sleep deprivation of doctors in residency impairs their reaction and decision making abilities as much as alcohol.
While the 90-hour work weeks of doctors-in-training have become a sort of initiation ritual for entry into the medical field, researchers found that such stresses can lead to serious errors that put patients at risk.
Residents with a 90-hour work week performed worse on a driving simulation test than those on a 44 hour per week rotation who had consumed alcohol up to a 0.05% blood alcohol level (a 0.08% blood alcohol is considered driving while intoxicated).
A survey of residents also found that they were three times more likely to have been involved in a motor vehicle crash.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, reiterates the findings of earlier research which showed that medical interns with demanding schedules made 50% more mistakes with patients and had 22% more serious errors on critical care units.
The author of the study Todd Arnedt of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, writes: "Residents must be aware of post-call performance impairment and the potential risk to personal and patient safety."
He advises that residency programs should also be aware of these concerns and create alternative call schedules and provide napping quarters. New rules established in 2003 reduced the maximum weekly schedules for U.S. interns to 80 hours.