Hopkins doctor reports violation of new work rules

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Less than two weeks after new national work restrictions for medical residents went into effect, a Johns Hopkins doctor has complained of violations.

Hopkins medical school officials are looking into the complaint after being notified Thursday by a national oversight board that a medical resident had reported working more than the permitted 80 hours a week.

"We were aware that concern was raised about an over-scheduling of some residents in one of our 75 departments and divisions," a school statement said.

"This would appear to be an isolated, aberrant event," Gary Stephenson, a school spokesman, said. "It is certainly not indicative of a systemic problem."

Hopkins, which has 676 residents, has been working since last year to meet the new Accreditation Council for Graduate Medicine Education rules, Stephenson said.

By Monday, he said, the school's residency program will be in "100 percent compliance."

Stephenson said he had no details about the complaint. "We're reviewing the situation to find out exactly what's going on," he said.

Dr. Levi Watkins, who oversees the medical school's residency program, did not return telephone calls for comment.

The accreditation council said it does not release any information on specific complaints. But a council source did confirm that the group had received a complaint about Johns Hopkins.

For years, critics have argued that the long hours put in by many residents were dangerous for patients - and unfair to the residents themselves.

On July 1, the new rules took effect, limiting residents to an average of 80 hours a week over a given month. In some specialties such as surgery, residents had typically worked 120 hours or more a week. While some applauded the change, some doctors worried that the decreased hours would weaken residents' education.

The accreditation council is a private nonprofit group that is funded largely by residency programs. To check compliance, the group conducts regular onsite surveys of residency programs. Johns Hopkins was last checked in December 2000 and found to be in compliance. Ingrid Philibert, a council official, said the next Hopkins review is scheduled for the fall.

Philibert said that since the new rules took effect, her office has received several calls about residents working more than 80 hours a week.

"We are beginning to hear about things," she said, saying that even before July 1, her office got calls "all the time."

Some critics said that not all programs will follow the rules.

"It's going to vary wildly," said Bruce Elwell, an organizer for the Committee of Interns and Residents, a union that has no chapter or members at Johns Hopkins.

Dr. David Rorison, senior vice president of medical affairs at the University of Maryland Medical System, was not available for comment.

The director of Maryland's Internal Medicine residency program, Dr. Susan Wolfsthal, said that her program is "set up to be in 100 percent compliance. We have been working toward this for probably five years."

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