New doctors’ intense, changing schedules take a toll, study shows

March 16, 2018

This year’s crop of graduating medical students will soon find out what hospital they’ve “matched” to for the residency training they’ll start this summer. A new study gives objective evidence of the heavy toll a resident’s schedule can take on sleep, physical activity, and mood.

The results come from the first phase of a University of Michigan study on the effects of medical training. It asks new doctors to wear Fitbit activity trackers around-the-clock and sends them mood-tracking text messages every day for the months immediately before and after they start residency. The researchers call it “digital phenotyping.”

On average, the 33 doctors in the pilot study lost 2 hours and 48 minutes of sleep a week after their residency training began because of high workload and frequent changes in their schedules that wreaked havoc on their sleep patterns. They got 11.5% less physical activity than before residency began, and their average daily self-reported mood score dropped 7.5%. The study covered the two months before residency began and the first six months of the first, or intern, year of training.

The demands of residency appeared to stack up. When they had a shorter sleep time one night, the participants’ moods suffered more the next day, and they slept even less the following night. The study also reveals the effect of the frequent changes in work schedules that medical interns experience as they rotate among training settings.

The results, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, shed light on a phenomenon senior author Srijan Sen, M.D., Ph.D., and his colleagues have studied for years.

Past studies based on questionnaires have shown a high risk of depression among medical residents, which researchers have attributed to loss of sleep, high stress, and demanding schedules.

To look at the issue on a much larger scale, the team has recruited more than 500 of this year’s graduating students from more than 80 medical schools to take part in the study.

M Health Lab has the full article

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