Doctors need to learn to work through fatigue

July 15, 2013
Fewer hours for interns

I read your article about medical internships [“More work, but less time,” July 9] as someone who “suffered” through an internship in the early 1980s with shifts as long as 42 hours and weeks as long as 140 hours.

Yes, there was great fatigue. What your article did not address — and something that, looking back, I am grateful for — is the lifelong ability to function as a tired physician.

I learned a great deal during that internship, some of it medicine, of course, but much of it personal discipline. Now, as a 57-year-old physician with responsibility for covering emergencies over long periods of time, I’m most grateful for having learned how to make important decisions with little sleep. I have no choice now: Either I make those decisions, accurately and quickly, or potentially lose a patient. I hate to think of what the current trainees will be like when they’re my age and are faced with a 140-hour week.

Bradley Dick, Potomac

“Shorter workdays are increasing handoffs, which can cause errors as patients are transferred from doctor to doctor,” the article says. Perhaps there needs to be some emphasis on teaching doctors how to document handoffs instead of assuming that this is a negative experience.

As a nurse, I see many instances where communication barely occurs between doctors and/or facilities. The beginning of training for doctors seems like a good time to begin learning how to properly document the handoffs that will be a part of their entire medical career.

Carol Whitney, Silver Spring

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