Objective: To identify and review UK research relating to the effects of patterns of work on the education of junior doctors, describe the trends in the research, contextualise the progress of the UK in reducing the number of hours worked by junior doctors alongside that of other countries and identify areas for future research.
Method: A total of 77 research studies, mostly written after 1995, were identified as relevant from approximately 900 references generated by searching Medline and using a 'snowball' technique. The articles identified were qualitatively reviewed to identify their key research conclusions and/or the main points of argument. These were collated and presented in a qualitative review.
Results: Research in the UK is contradictory regarding the effects of working patterns and the views of doctors towards them. Further research is needed to examine in depth the differences in the effects of working patterns on education between hard-pressed and non hard-pressed specialties, hospitals and regions. When viewed in an international context, the UK ranks among a number of countries with similar medical systems that are moving towards reducing the hours worked by doctors in training, all of which are at different points in the process.
Conclusion: The literature review has helped to identify the popular wisdom surrounding the debate on junior doctors' hours, the progress of the UK when compared to that of other countries and gaps in research. Further research is needed to refine understanding of this area.