Fatigue Risk Management: The Impact of Anesthesiology Residents’ Work Schedules on Job Performance and a Review of Potential Countermeasures

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Abstract

Long duty periods and overnight call shifts impair physicians’ performance on measures of vigilance, psychomotor functioning, alertness, and mood. Anesthesiology residents typically work between 64 and 70 hours per week and are often required to work 24 hours or overnight shifts, sometimes taking call every third night. Mitigating the effects of sleep loss, circadian misalignment, and sleep inertia requires an understanding of the relationship among work schedules, fatigue, and job performance. This article reviews the current Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education guidelines for resident duty hours, examines how anesthesiologists’ work schedules can affect job performance, and discusses the ramifications of overnight and prolonged duty hours on patient safety and resident well-being. We then propose countermeasures that have been implemented to mitigate the effects of fatigue and describe how training programs or practice groups who must work overnight can adapt these strategies for use in a hospital setting. Countermeasures include the use of scheduling interventions, strategic naps, microbreaks, caffeine use during overnight and extended shifts, and the use of bright lights in the clinical setting when possible or personal blue light devices when the room lights must be turned off. Although this review focuses primarily on anesthesiology residents in training, many of the mitigation strategies described here can be used effectively by physicians in practice.

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