Original Article

Journal of General Internal Medicine

, Volume 22, Issue 2, pp 205-209

First online:

The Impact of Duty Hours on Resident Self Reports of Errors

  • Arpana R. VidyarthiAffiliated withDepartment of Medicine, University of California Email author 
  • , Andrew D. AuerbachAffiliated withDepartment of Medicine, University of California
  • , Robert M. WachterAffiliated withDepartment of Medicine, University of California
  • , Patricia P. KatzAffiliated withDepartment of Medicine, University of California

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Resident duty hour limitations aim, in part, to reduce medical errors. Residents’ perceptions of the impact of duty hours on errors are unknown.


To determine residents’ self-reported contributing factors, frequency, and impact of hours worked on suboptimal care practices and medical errors.


Cross-sectional survey.


164 Internal Medicine Residents at the University of California, San Francisco.

Measurements and Results

Residents were asked to report the frequency and contributing factors of suboptimal care practices and medical errors, and how duty hours impacted these practices and aspects of resident work-life. One hundred twenty-five residents (76%) responded. The most common suboptimal care practices were working while impaired by fatigue and forgetting to transmit information during sign-out. In multivariable models, residents who felt overwhelmed with work (p = 0.02) and who reported spending >50% of their time in nonphysician tasks (p = 0.002) were more likely to report suboptimal care practices. Residents reported work-stress (a composite of fatigue, excessive workload, distractions, stress, and inadequate time) as the most frequent contributing factor to medical errors. In multivariable models, only engaging in suboptimal practices was associated with self-report of higher risk for medical errors (p < 0.001); working more than 80 hours per week was not associated with suboptimal care or errors.


Our findings suggest that administrative load and work stressors are more closely associated with resident reports of medical errors than the number of hours work. Efforts to reduce resident duty hours may also need to address the nature of residents’ work to reduce errors.

Key words

duty hours medical errors medical education patient safety