Background: Considerable interest and concern have been expressed about junior doctors' hours. This study was carried out to evaluate the emotional and cognitive effects of a weekend on call in a surgical ward.
Methods: Ten surgical house officers were assessed, in counterbalanced design, on four Monday mornings, twice after a weekend off duty and twice after a weekend on call. Cognitive functioning was assessed using the Cognitive Drug Research computerized cognitive assessment system, and emotional state was evaluated by means of the Aberdeen Mood Rating Scale.
Results: Following a weekend on call, significant impairment in concentration, speed and power was observed, and the doctors felt less confident, less energetic and more confused. Impaired attention, working memory, long-term memory and confusion were most closely correlated with number of hours worked on Sunday, and tiredness and confusion were related to number of hours slept.
Conclusion: A weekend on call has significant deleterious effects on cognitive performance and mood. The findings have implications for staffing levels and the design of duty rosters.