How many hours do Doctors work night shifts?

How many hours do Doctors work night shifts?

The medical field is notorious for not being easy to survive in. Most doctors earn a decent living only after endless exams, strenuous 12-24 hour shifts, and years of schooling. One can’t be certain if becoming a doctor is for them without going through it all, at the same time, few things in life give you the same satisfaction as saving someone’s life does. Here we will see How many hours do Doctors work night shifts?

The number of working hours varies between different specialties the doctor has decided to train as a resident in. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) has recently updated the number of working hours of residents to 80 hours a week. On average, a resident is required to work a 24-28 hour continuous shift about 4-5 times a month. Once residency is completed, most doctors choose to work 60 hours a week. Doctors training in surgery, family medicine, neurology, cardiology and obstetrics, and gynecology are required to stay on-call 3-7 times a night for 5 days out of the week. In 2011, the Accreditation Council of Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) established that first-year residents, commonly known as interns, should not work more than 16-hour continuous shifts. Before 2011, it was common practice for residents to work for 100-120 hours per week at the hospital, with one single shift stretching for up to 48 hours.

Depending upon the rotation pattern in various hospitals, residents often have to attend 2-3 weeks of night shifts that last for 8-12 hours. In many hospitals, there is an “intern room” or “nap room” where doctors on night shifts can catch a breather, eat food or take a short nap for 20-3- minutes but these breaks are often rare. 

How to Manage Time and Health During Night Shifts?

While extra hours at the hospital is great for doctors to learn more about their specialty and handle new cases independently, doctors have to make life-changing decisions for their patients under high pressure and studies show that after going 24 hours without sleep, a human’s psychomotor performance drops to the level of someone who has a blood alcohol concentration of 0.1%. However, exhaustion can never be an excuse for poor decision-making in the field of medicine. A human body’s sleep and wake-up routine is controlled by the suprachiasmatic nucleus ( SCN ) situated in the hypothalamus of the brain. The SCN produces circadian rhythms that trigger the physiological functions of the body.  These circadian rhythms are highly influenced by environmental factors like visible light coming from the sun, increased temperature due to sunlight, etc. Resetting a human’s body clock isn’t easy so here are some tips to boost alertness during night shifts-

  • The night before a night shift, one should try staying up as late as possible and sleeping in until 4-5 hours before the shift so they don’t have to go for complete 24 hours without sleep.
  • Eat breakfast foods before the start of the shift and pack a light “lunch” for the shift. Trying to trick the body into following the new routine faster. 
  • Stay hydrated. Dehydration can worsen the symptoms of sleep deprivation like nausea, confusion, bloating, headaches, dizziness, and weakness.
  • Double-check written notes, prescribed medicines, and scans because one’s response is not as accurate at night as it is in the daytime.
  • There are fewer nurses on duty at night hence, make sure the patient is closely observed.
  • Be vigilant while drinking caffeine because if the intake is too close to the end of the shift, one might face problems sleeping at home.
  • Increase exposure to blue light through screens as receptors in eyes respond to that spectrum of light and boost alertness. 
  • Once home, it is better to shut the drapes, use earbuds and eye masks and lower down the temperature of the bedroom to resemble nighttime. This helps the human body fall asleep quicker.


During residency training, doctors are often faced with the fact that they will have to make a choice of choosing superior education or better working conditions and pay. There is always a constant pull and push between the concepts of service and education. While doctors enjoy the status of being a part of the most prestigious profession, they also have to be under a gruesome amount of pressure with an endless path of studies stretching beyond them. The high working hours are detrimental to their mental and physical health. Despite all of this, doctors continue to work hard because they stand by their patient’s needs. With ever-evolving technology and medical science, there is no end to be seen of learning in medicine, ready to keep the future generations of doctors on their toes. 

Frequently asked questions

How to become a doctor in the USA?

  • Get an undergraduate degree preferable in pre-medicine, biology, chemistry, or health science. Medical school boards require students to have completed UG degrees from accredited universities.
  • Clear Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) after undergrad school.
  • Complete training at the enrolled Medical school. 
  • Pass part first and second of the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE)
  • Choose an apple for the desired residency program.
  • Pass part three of USMLE
  • Complete residency, apply for further training programs if required, or get board certification.
  • Once the doctor has acquired the state’s license, they can apply for jobs or open their practice. 

What is The Match?

The Match is a computer program operated by a mathematical algorithm that considers the candidates listed preferences and places doctors into residency programs accredited by ACGME.

How much are Residents paid?

Residents are often considered a cheap source of labor to fill in for consultants. They get paid a fixed, very modest amount based on per hour served. This amount is often half of what nurse practitioners are paid for almost twice as many hours of work. Thankfully, in the last 40 years, the pay of residents has gradually increased. In 2019, the average pay for a resident was $61,000/ per year, a significant increase from 2017’s $57,000/per year. Residents of years 6-8 can earn up to $63,000/per year. 

How many hours do Doctors work night shifts?

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