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If you’re a fan of US medical TV shows you have probably noticed that the tireless, (yet effortlessly beautiful) doctors and nurses all seem to work around the clock shifts, never leaving the hospital for longer than it takes for the next drama to unfold.  

It’s no secret that doctors in the United States work really long shifts. The TV show Scrubs, (stream it if you haven’t seen it) brought a comedic light to a rather harsh reality of just how grueling shifts can be for U.S doctors. While It looks like doctors in Australia and the European Union enjoy a “comfortable” 48 working hours per week, that number is more than doubled for doctors in the U.S who as standard endure a grueling 80-hour plus week, although often a single shift will exceed 24 hours on its own.

So why do doctors have such long shifts in the U.S?

One reason is to reduce the amount of times a patient’s care has to be handed over. A 2016 study showed that an average of 13.5% of patient deaths were caused directly by “poor communication during patient handoff”, with another study estimating 150,000-250,000 deaths each year can be attributed due to errors made during patient handover. If you double the length of a shift you half the number of handovers.

Another, more obvious reason, is that there just aren’t enough doctors available with the required specialty skills, and doctors are finding themselves working more to meet staffing shortfalls. In particular junior doctors work the most hours, with “67% of surgical trainees attending work while off-duty to protect their training and gain adequate experience operating”.

How can a person possibly work for 30 hours straight?

Short answer, they can’t. You need to catch sleep whenever you can!

Learn to Sleep Standing Up

Have you ever watched a horse gallop through a meadow and thought to yourself, “Why that’s so majestic?” Well now is your chance to be just like a horse and sleep standing up. Imagine all the times in life you’re just standing in one place; in the elevator, in line at that trendy coffee shop, at morning rounds. If you learn to sleep standing up, you can turn all of these wasted moments catching up on some much-needed sleep. It might even help to invest in a pair of shoes with wheels on the heels, so you just roll around the hospital looking busy when you’re actually asleep.

Learn to Sleep with Your Eyes Open

Boring collaborative care meetings are pretty common nowadays, and most of the time you just sit there and listen to everyone talk about what they’re doing with your patient. Imagine being able to sleep through these without anyone knowing. Once you’ve mastered the art of sleeping with your eyes open you can finally get that extra 15 minutes your alarm clock stole from you instead of listening to what the social worker has to say about some annoying family member who believes they know best because they saw this post on Facebook.

Catch Some Z’s While Dropping a D

Bathroom breaks can be one of the few times in between patients to get some sleep. Make sure you find a bathroom that people barely use so people don’t catch the sound of snoring coming from the toilet stall. Perhaps consume some cruciferous vegetables before you close your eyes, a bought of induced sleep-flatulence will add authenticity to your toilet-time sneaky-slumber.

Stand in The Corner with Your Head on the Wall

When you’re done speaking with a patient and are about to move on to the next room, stand in the corner of the room and put your head against the wall. Bonus points for being able to hold your clipboard between your body and the wall so it looks like you’re looking over your patient’s chart. However, do keep one ear open in case your patient begins to question what you’re doing.

If All Else Fails… Go Crazy?

Much like J.D. from Scrubs, resident doctors don’t get to go home much and frequently work the longest shifts while being under constant, enormous stress. Ever wonder why J.D. spent so much time in dreamland?

Despite all the studies on the effects of sleep deprivation on the doctor and patient care, there doesn’t seem to be any improvement as far as improving regulations to lessen the emotional and physical demands of being a doctor in the U.S.

B Michael Logan

B Michael Logan is a certified healthcare professional secretly moonlighting as a comedy writer. He can be found around the web at @bmichaellogan
B Michael Logan

10 thoughts on “Why Do Doctors Work Such Crazy Hours?”

  1. This was a good article. It sucks how everyone is getting screwed over by the health care system. Patients, doctors and all.

    1. Doctors vs patients ratio is still low in most of the countries. Kids these days are more focused on becoming a YT star than become a doctor.

  2. Now I know! I thought they were just doing it for the over-overtime and that’s why they make so much money!

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