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Medical residents at McGill say it is unreasonable to require them to remain on call for marathon shifts. ((CBC))

Medical residents in Montreal are demanding an end to on-call shifts of 24 hours or more that have become a tradition in the medical world.

The doctors have filed a collective grievance against their employer, the McGill University Health Centre. The case went before an arbitrator in Montreal on Monday.

Accumulated fatigue puts both patients and doctors at risk, said Dr. Alain Bestawros, the resident who initiated the complaint.

"For the same reason we do not allow truck drivers to drive more than a certain number of hours, pilots to be piloting planes for more than a certain number of hours, I think we should not allow doctors to practise medicine for a period that extends beyond 16 hours," said Bestawros.

The additional pressure in the health-care system due to a shortage of medical staff only underscores the importance of addressing the issue, said Bestawros.

If the residents — medical school graduates completing their training by working under supervision in hospital — win their case, it could have an impact at other institutions, said their lawyer, Jacques Castonguay.

"We anticipate that that case will be like a test case for the others, and the decision that will come will certainly apply to the other hospitals," he said.

The health centre declined to comment on the case.

Quebec's College of Physicians said it is concerned about the issue and will take a close look at the arguments being made before the arbitrator.