The Bell Commission: ethical implications for the training of physicians

Mt Sinai J Med. 2000 Mar;67(2):136-9.


In 1989, the New York State Legislature enacted New York State Code 405 in response to the death of a patient in a New York City hospital. Code 405 was the culmination of a report (the Bell Commission Report) that implicated the training of residents as part of the problem leading to that tragic death. This paper explores the consequences of the regulatory changes in physician training. The sleep deprivation of house officers was considered a major issue requiring correction. There is little evidence to support the claim that sleep deprivation is a serious cause of medical misadventures. Nevertheless, the changes in house officers' working hours and responsibilities have profound implications. Changes in the time allotted to teaching, the ability to learn from patients admitted after a shift is over, and the increasing loss of continuity, all may have a negative impact on physician training. It is not clear that trainees are being realistically prepared for the actual practice of medicine - physicians often work extended hours. The most serious concern that has been raised is the loss of professionalism by physicians. Residents are now viewing themselves as hourly workers, and the State has intervened in an area of training formerly left to the profession to manage. We are now training doctors in New York State who will be comfortable working in an hourly wage setting, but not in the traditional practice of medicine as it has been in the United States during this century. We are concerned that this may sever the bond between doctor and patient - a bond that has been the bedrock of our conception of a physician.

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Competence
  • Ethics, Medical
  • Humans
  • Internship and Residency* / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Learning
  • New York
  • Personnel Staffing and Scheduling / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Work Schedule Tolerance