Stress and fatigue pose significant risks in the medical field. When people do not get enough sleep due to stress or long hours, their thinking can become muddled. This can be especially dangerous in jobs where safety is crucial.

For example, tired and drowsy drivers caused about 684 deaths in 2021. In the medical field, a recent study found more surgical complications when doctors had less than six hours of sleep.

Limits in high-risk jobs

To mitigate the risk of errors stemming from stress and fatigue, the health care sector has also implemented work-hour restrictions, particularly for resident physicians. These measures underscore a commitment to both employee welfare and the safety of the public. When left unchecked, these recognize that stress and fatigue can significantly compromise human performance.

Surgery and fatigue

In surgery, it is vital for medical teams to be wide awake in situations like:

  • Surgical procedures: During surgery, surgeons must make precise incisions, control bleeding and make critical decisions on the spot. However, when they are tired or drowsy due to fatigue, their focus can slip, leading to surgical mistakes like cutting the wrong tissue, harming organs or leaving instruments inside the patient.
  • Medication administration: When giving medications, nurses and pharmacists must stay alert to ensure they give the correct drug, dose and method. If they are tired, mistakes can happen, like dangerous drug interactions or they may administer the wrong dose.
  • Intensive Care Units (ICUs): Patients in ICUs often need constant monitoring, and quick intervention if their condition worsens. Staying alert is key to spotting changes in vital signs and responding swiftly to alarms that signal serious problems.

These are just examples of how important it is for health care professionals to be well-rested during surgeries. Emergency situations can even be riskier, especially if there’s a need to respond rapidly to life-threatening situations.

Take care of our caretakers

Stress and fatigue can lead to medical errors that put patients at risk. To prevent these errors, we need to make sure health care workers get enough rest, follow work-hour rules and have backup support when they are tired. Recognizing these challenges is vital for keeping health care safe for everyone.