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Information for people contemplating
a career in emergency medicine and
other medical specialties

By Kevin Pezzi, MD


Is sleep less important for doctors than truck drivers and pilots?

Doctor sleep
Few physicians get enough sleep
to appear this well-rested

Q: Dear Dr. Pezzi,

Greetings and Salutations!

Geez, I'm not sure how to say this . . . . I'm fascinated by all your varied interests but am wondering with so many areas of expertise and the long/stressful hours of the ER — do you sleep enough? I hope so ; )   I'm sure with your extensive medical training and independent healthcare studies you're aware of the necessity for sufficient "deep sleep"; just hope your brother isn't 100% accurate in his description of you as "the absent minded professor" to the degree that you lose track of time and end up shortchanging yourself on sleep too often. (Ironically, most medical experts only give a cursory nod to the whole realm of the importance of sleep: why is it that over-the-road truck drivers have mandatory "rest" times between driving shifts but until recently most hospital residents still had grueling 24-48 hour shifts?!)

Guess I'll sign off before I start to ramble. I TRULY do hope you sleep well!

Best Regards, Laurie

Answer by , MD: Hi Laurie,

Your timing is impeccable! I went to bed an hour late last night and awoke an hour early after I had an intense dream in which I solved a problem pertaining to the invention I am now working on, which I (purposely) cryptically refer to as The Next Big Thing. I can't yet divulge what it is, but it will give people a practical and addictively fun way to do something they have long dreamed of doing. I am not sure why I had such a dream, which was riddled with tinges of “Can I really do it?” anxiety, because my progress on that invention has exceeded my expectations, and I have already solved the most challenging problems.

You raise an excellent point about how truck drivers have mandatory rest times between driving shifts but resident doctors were worked like slaves until recently (and attending doctors can work as many hours as they want to or are forced to, such as when their group is short-staffed, or when the next doc never arrives for his shift). The FAA has very strict regulations about rest periods for pilots and how many hours they can work per month. Flying a plane is a piece of cake compared with working as an ER doctor. I've often worked more hours in one week than commercial pilots can work in a month, and I did that without the assistance of a co-pilot, checklists, and computerized controls that now do most of the actual piloting. If pilots worked as ER doctors in busy emergency departments, they would be stunned by the flood of information that docs must process simultaneously. Here is an example of what it can be like to work as an ER doctor.

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