Is Night Shift Bad For You? Hazards of Shift Work Examined


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Sleep deprivation affects a doctor's performance. Image by melodi2

Interview with Dr. De Virgilio

Decoded Science asked Dr. De Virgilio about the proposed law to have physician’s hours limited in all states, and he responded as follows:

“New York is the only state that has the current law restricting the physician work hours (following guidelines that were proposed in 2003). If California followed suit, wed assume that most of the other states would also. In terms of a gold standard, if we can get all these hospitals to follow guidelines, we would significantly reduce patient harm. The best way to do this would be to have an organization such as OSHA enforcing the hours/guidelines and have it be part of the labor code. Youd have to have somebody from each state (i.e. CALOSHA) come out and inspect and make sure hospitals are complying, and also have someone from OSHA available to answer complaints. We’re trying to raise awareness of how outdated the system is those who are currently following this outdated system aren’t following the guidelines, but they would follow a law.”

Decoded Science also asked Dr. De Virgilio what his recommendations are in regards to additional legislation and hospital policies govering the enforcement of rest periods/shorter hours for medical professionals.

“We’re not trying to change anything, just want enforcement and oversight. We want the guidelines to be part of the labor code everyone agrees upon the 80-hour work week and just want it to be enforced. We want people to be accountable and want transparency of physician hours. If there were a system where a physician was able to tell a patient how many hours he’s been working or a patient can ask, we’d be a lot more accountable as a system.”

Night Shift and Depression, Diabetes, and Patient Risk

Working long hours or working night shifts can put a great amount of stress on your body, and increase your risks for health problems such as type 2 diabetes and depression that may result from social exclusion. Doctors, and members of other professions such as air traffic controllers and truck drivers, who suffer from sleep deprivation are not only putting themselves at risk, but also putting others at risk.  Studies such as these help highlight the need for more reasonable shifts, the need for enforcement of work regulations, and provide methods of reducing the health effects of night shift on workers and the general public alike.


Pan, A., Schernhammer, E.S., Sun, Q., Hu, F.B. Rotating Night Shift Work and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: Two Prospective Cohort Studies in Women. (2011). PLoS Med 8(12): e1001141. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001141. Accessed December 29, 2011.

LA Biomed. Study highlights impact of sleep deprivation on patients and health care providers.  (2011). Eureka Alert. Accessed December 29, 2011.

Yaghoubian, A., Saltmarsh, G., Rosing, D., Lewis, R., Stabile, B., de Virgilio, C. Decreased Bile Duct Injury Rate During Laparoscopic Cholecystectomy in the Era of the 80-Hour Resident Workweek. Archives of Surgery. (2008). 143(9):847-851. Accessed December 29, 2011.

Yaghoubian, A., Kaji, A.H., Ishaque, B., Park, J., Rosing, D.K., Lee, S., Stabile, B.E., de Virgilio, C. Acute care surgery performed by sleep deprived residents: are outcomes affected? (2010). U.S. National Library of Medicine. Accessed December 29, 2011.

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