Shift work and doctors' health
Thanks to new European legislation on working hours, more doctors will have to work unpopular shift systems. John Hobson spells out how shift work can affect your health and performance, and what you can do to protect yourself
Shift work is a recognised risk factor for ill health and can affect safety and social wellbeing. Although it has become a fact of modern life, shift work is certainly nothing new in medicine, which has always provided care around the clock. The implementation of European legislation is new, however, and since 1 August 2004 all doctors, including those in training, should be working within the guidelines, which stipulate a maximum 58 hour working week for doctors. The European Working Time Directive provides guidelines on breaks and continuous working and requires employers to assess the health of shift workers. The directive is causing problems throughout Europe, and most countries will be left with a shortfall of doctors if they apply the rules fully.
In the meantime, most doctors at some stage in their careers will experience an extended period of non-standard working hours because of their on-call duties. This is