News & Commentary

Interns Could Work Much Longer Hours

There is some movement on the provider front with young doctors and nurses. A proposal by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Examination (ACGME), an organization that oversees the training of young physicians, would allow first-year doctors (or interns) to work 24-hour shifts, eight hours longer than they’re currently permitted to work. In the meantime, after a relatively flat job market, nurses are again in high demand, with some hospitals offering $10,000 signing bonuses.

Regarding the physicians, this latest move represents a new turn in the long-term effort to find the right formula that balances physician training with patient safety, inasmuch as concern exists that exhausted doctors are prone to mistakes, the Washington Post reports.

The ACGME’s reasoning is that interns should be prepared to handle the workload of their next step up the ladder: residency. Residents currently work 24-hour shifts.

Interns worked 24-hour shifts up until 2011, when safety concerns raised by the Institute of Medicine compelled the ACGME to cut shifts down to 16 hours.

Faculty at teaching hospitals worry that the 16-hour days may have compromised patient care because they necessitate more handoffs. As the Post puts it: “Many instructors also say that young doctors learn best by following a patient in the crucial first 36 hours of a hospitalization.” They also point to a study in February in the New England Journal of Medicine showing that there were no effects on patient outcomes when surgeons in training were allowed to work longer hours.

Meanwhile, on the nursing front, the Wall Street Journal reports that the job market for nurses is booming, driving up salaries and bonuses.

Nurses, of course, have seen this before. More than a decade ago, they were in very high demand—so high that it enticed a lot young people to go into the profession. That, in turn, created a glut of applicants, and the situation was made only worse in the recession of 2008, which made a lot of older nurses put off retirement.

The new demand is seen in many states. Texas needs nurses because of that state’s population growth. Demand is high in Iowa as well. Not only hospitals need nurses, and the demand of new jobs outside of hospitals has created more openings than can be filled in Pennsylvania, Florida, and Nebraska. Shortages on the West Coast and New England are also being forecast.

In September, Geisinger, the health system in northeast Pennsylvania, began offering nurses with as little as one year experience signing bonuses of up to $15,000, the WSJ reports.

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