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EDUCATION REPORT - July 4, 2002: Medical Residents - 2002-07-01

This is the VOA Special English Education Report.

To become a doctor in the United States, students usually attend four years of medical school after they complete college. Then these young doctors work in hospitals for several years to complete a training program called a residency.

These medical residents provide hospitals with needed services in return for not much pay. They work under the supervision of medical professors and more experienced doctors. Medical residents treat patients. They carry out tests. They perform operations. They complete records. In hospitals with few nurses, residents also do work formerly done by nurses.

Some medical residents work one-hundred or more hours in a single week. They often work for more than thirty-six hours at a time before they can rest.

Critics of this system say medical residents work too long and do not get enough rest. They say these young doctors may be too tired to perform their medical duties effectively.

Now, however, an organization that supervises the training of medical residents has intervened. The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education says it will limit the number of hours that residents can work. It acted because of concerns that hospital workers are responsible for many serious mistakes. The new work limits will begin in about a year. They will affect about one-hundred-thousand medical residents.

Most doctors in training will be limited to eighty hours of work each week. They will have work periods of no more than twenty-four hours at one time. They will have ten hours of rest between work periods.

Medical residents will have one day each week when they do not have to work. Any work they accept outside their hospitals will be limited. Experienced doctors and medical professors will closely supervise the residents to make sure they are not too tired to work.

Many medical residents welcomed the work limits. Others, however, said the new policy may interfere with patient care and their own medical education.

The new work limits almost surely will mean higher costs for many hospitals where residents work. This may increase hospital costs by many millions of dollars across the United States.

This VOA Special English Education Report was written by Jerilyn Watson.