One of the most common ways that we measure experience is time spent performing a job or task. The measurement is especially true of individuals in the health care profession, where the first question a patient often asks is how long a doctor or surgeon has been practicing.

However, instead of the long 100-hour work week, many hospitals are mandating shorter work week hours for their residents and surgeons. The trend is not merely limited to the United States: England, Sweden, and other countries are also experimenting with shorter work weeks.

Experts propose several arguments in favor of shortening the work weeks, including a desire to reduce preventable and non-preventable errors. However, the fact remains that less time spent in the hospital means less time for a surgeon or resident to perfect his or her skills.

In an article published in the Journal of the Society of Laparoendoscopic Surgeons, Dr. Gustavo Stringel proposed five integrated approaches to make the most of a surgeon’s remaining work hours. They include reorganizing the educational system to account for an individual surgeon’s cognitive abilities and psychomotor skills, integrating effective feedback into a surgeon’s professional career, and making the use of simulators a bigger part of the surgeon’s training experience. Dr. Stringel also proposed taking a new look at how surgical residents are motivated, perhaps even borrowing from the business world, where motivation is a key issue.

Most of all, Dr. Stringel stressed the ongoing importance of being aware of the challenges inherent in a new system in which surgeons and residents are spending less time in the hospital, and in surgery, than their predecessors. The number of hours worked is an excellent way to measure a surgeon’s expertise, but it may not be the only way.

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