Hospital intern doctors working 24 hours straight

Summary

University hospitals in Flanders routinely require student interns to work 24-hour shifts, without sleep, which could put patients at risk.

University hospitals admit to breaking the law

Patients in hospitals in Flanders are often being cared for by final-year medical students who are being forced to work shifts of more than 24 hours, according to a report in the last issue of the Leuven university student magazine Veto.

Medical students in the sixth year of study have to serve a number of hours in different departments of their university’s teaching hospital, and Veto reveals that they are made to work long shifts and unable to sleep for more than short periods, if at all. The practice is against the law and puts patients at risk, according to the students.

“During my internship, I had to work 36 hours virtually non-stop in the emergency department. I only slept for three hours,” said one student. “It happened because the person due to relieve me failed to show up. I called my adviser, and he told me to figure something out. I had to take on my colleague’s shift on top of my own.”

Students also complain they were told to fill in time-sheets with false information to cover up the actual number of hours worked. By law, a 12-hour shift must be followed by at least 12 hours off.

The law limiting the hours of interns is only two years old, noted Veto, while the tradition of intern doctors working long hours is decades old. “Our advisers say: ‘In our day we also had to work as long as you’,” another student told the magazine. “Older doctors think we need to do the same.”

Universities contacted by Veto complained that the law is unclear but admit that interns work in less than perfect conditions. Some also admit breaking the law on working hours.

www.veto.be

Photo credit: Ingimage

University hospitals in Flanders routinely require student interns to work 24-hour shifts, without sleep, which could put patients at risk.

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