MDs-in-training face long shifts

Safety is always a consideration when doctors-in-training work long rotations at Alberta's hospitals, a medical official says.

Safety is always a consideration when doctors-in-training work long rotations at Alberta's hospitals, a medical official says.  

Shifts that can last 24 hours or more have long been a hallmark of medical training for residents, but in Quebec, a hospital was recently ordered to reduce the maximum shift to 16 hours from 24. That decision remains under appeal. 

In Alberta, a new agreement with medical residents has left the maximum shift at 24 hours.

However, Dr. Joanne Todesco, the associate dean for post-graduate medical education at the University of Calgary medical school, says safety is always a consideration for the doctors-in-training and the patients they treat.

The 24-hour maximum in not in effect for every specialty, Todesco told CBC News.

"We have a program with high-intensity call that went to a 15-hour call maximum several years ago and is still doing that …" she said.

In addition, she said, students are more willing than in the past to admit they are tired and can ask to take a rest.

Taxi voucher system

"Here in Alberta we have a taxi voucher system so when a resident doesn't feel fit to drive themselves home at the end of a shift they can take a taxi and get reimbursed for the cost," Todesco said. "So that's just an example of how it's not just about the duty hours."

The long rotations "are part of our training," said Rithesh Ram, a U of C medical student who will face the long shifts next year.

"We do get good experience when we do stay overnight and we tend to get more responsibilities and it's something we know when we decide to go down this road of medical education."

The residents work under the supervision of other medical staff to ensure patients are safe, Ram said.