Professionalism in the Twilight Zone: A Multicenter, Mixed-Methods Study of Shift Transition Dynamics in Surgical Residencies

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Purpose: Duty hours rules sparked debates about professionalism. This study explores whether and why general surgery residents delay departures at the end of a day shift in ways consistent with shift work, traditional professionalism, or a new professionalism.

Method: Questionnaires were administered to categorical residents in 13 general surgery programs in 2014 and 2015. The response rate was 76% (N = 291). The 18 items focused on end-of-shift behaviors and the frequency and source of delayed departures. Follow-up interviews (N = 39) examined motives for delayed departures. The results include means, percentages, and representative quotations from the interviews.

Results: A minority (33%) agreed that it is routine and acceptable to pass work to night teams, whereas a strong majority (81%) believed that residents exceed work hours in the name of professionalism. Delayed departures were ubiquitous: Only 2 of 291 residents were not delayed for any of 13 reasons during a typical week. The single most common source of delay involved a desire to avoid the appearance of dumping work on fellow residents. In the interviews, residents expressed a strong reluctance to pass work to an on-call resident or night team because of sparse night staffing, patient ownership, an aversion to dumping, and the fear of being seen as inefficient.

Conclusions: Resident behavior is shaped by organizational and cultural contexts that require attention and reform. The evidence points to the stunted development of a new professionalism, little role for shift-work mentalities, and uneven expression of traditional professionalism in resident behavior.



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