Extended-duration work rosters (EDWRs) with shifts of 24+ hours impair performance compared with rapid cycling work rosters (RCWRs) that limit shifts to 16 hours in postgraduate year (PGY) 1 resident-physicians. We examined the impact of a RCWR on PGY 2 and PGY 3 resident-physicians.


Data from 294 resident-physicians were analyzed from a multicenter clinical trial of 6 US PICUs. Resident-physicians worked 4-week EDWRs with shifts of 24+ hours every third or fourth shift, or an RCWR in which most shifts were ≤16 consecutive hours. Participants completed a daily sleep and work log and the 10-minute Psychomotor Vigilance Task and Karolinska Sleepiness Scale 2 to 5 times per shift approximately once per week as operational demands allowed.


Overall, the mean (± SE) number of attentional failures was significantly higher (P =.01) on the EDWR (6.8 ± 1.0) compared with RCWR (2.9 ± 0.7). Reaction time and subjective alertness were also significantly higher, by ∼18% and ∼9%, respectively (both P <.0001). These differences were sustained across the 4-week rotation. Moreover, attentional failures were associated with resident-physician–related serious medical errors (SMEs) (P =.04). Although a higher rate of SMEs was observed under the RCWR, after adjusting for workload, RCWR had a protective effect on the rate of SMEs (rate ratio 0.48 [95% confidence interval: 0.30–0.77]).


Performance impairment due to EDWR is improved by limiting shift duration. These data and their correlation with SME rates highlight the impairment of neurobehavioral performance due to extended-duration shifts and have important implications for patient safety.

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