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Doctors in training spend long hours, but does it help?

If you’re hospitalized in Syracuse, you may be cared for by a medical intern or resident. Those young doctors in training spend long hours at the hospital, on little to no sleep while on duty. Last year, teaching hospitals across the country changed the rules to give first year interns a little more rest. A new study reveals whether or not it helped their performance.
Syracuse (WSYR-TV) -- If you’re hospitalized in Syracuse, you may be cared for by a medical intern or resident. Those young doctors in training spend long hours at the hospital, on little to no sleep while on duty. Last year, teaching hospitals across the country changed the rules to give first year interns a little more rest. A new study reveals whether or not it helped their performance.

Dr. Hilary Faust comes from a family of physicians and is well aware that sleep is a premium, but important, as she completes her medical training.

"When I do rotations now where I'm doing 30 hour shifts getting an hour of sleep or even half an hour of sleep makes a huge difference and I do feel much better after that,” said Dr. Faust, University of Pennsylvania Health System.

However, sleep is not a guarantee on these shifts.

"There's a large amount of research showing that sleep deprivation can adversely affect performance and safety,” explained David F. Dinges.

"There have been concerns for a long time that having prolonged periods of wakefulness could really contribute to impaired performance among interns,” said Dr. Kevin G. Volpp of the Philadelphia VA Medical Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

Because sleep deprivation affects performance, researchers wanted to find out how fitting in sleep impacted doctors in training. They took two groups of interns. Every other month one group had protected sleep periods during their shifts. They turned in phones and pagers to the residents on call. The other group worked a standard schedule and only slept if time allowed.

"They slept earlier, longer and less disturbed. We didn't completely give them a full night's sleep but even the three hours, the 50 percent more sleep they got was beneficial,” Dr. Faust said.

Dr. Faust also says she’s been up since about 8 a.m. Monday morning.

Researchers compared mortality and readmission rates for patients who had protected sleep and those who did not.

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