SAVMA revises duty-hour guidelines

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The Student AVMA released a revised version of its duty-hour guidelines in May.

The guidelines pertain specifically to clinical rotations for fourth-year students. The guidelines recommend that students not work more than 80 hours a week, not work more than 24 consecutive hours in continuous on-site duty, and be provided with breaks when they are on call.

The decision to rework the guidelines, originally published in 2011, came after students expressed some concerns about the relevance of the language in the original document.

"Veterinary students felt that some of these guidelines were not strict enough," said Stéphie-Anne Dulièpre, former SAVMA cultural outreach officer and fourth-year student at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.

In addition, veterinary colleges have different ways of handling their clinical curriculum, and it can be difficult to apply broad guidelines to all the schools, which students brought up after the first guidelines were approved by the SAVMA House of Delegates. With that challenge in mind, one of the main goals of the new guidelines was to find a way to make sure they were applicable to all schools and easy for students to discuss with supervisors, Dulièpre said.

SAVMA HOD meeting
A meeting of the Student AVMA House of Delegates (Courtesy of Stéphie-Anne Dulièpre)

Some of the additions and changes made to the guidelines include the following:

  • Using the word "must" rather than words such as "required" in the general language of the document.
  • Defining "on-call" and "in-house."
  • Emphasizing the need for 30-minute breaks.
  • Adding a specific guideline that gives students permission to take time for a doctor, dentist, or mental health appointment.
  • Detailing the meaning of a one-day break period for students every seven days.

SAVMA gathered feedback with surveys and in-person interviews involving students, faculty, and staff at 19 veterinary colleges with clinical programs.

Dulièpre and SAVMA hope these guidelines are well received.

"There are a lot of good people that worked on this with us and helped this become a reality," Dulièpre said. "We don't want to rub any schools and colleges the wrong way, and at the end of the day, if everybody feels that this process was done well and that everybody was respected, the students benefit the most because then they have a partnership with their superiors in order to improve."

SAVMA does not have the authority to enforce these guidelines but has stated that the organization is encouraging all AVMA Council on Education–accredited institutions to consider following them. SAVMA has instructed its representatives from each veterinary college to talk to their superiors and discuss how the college's program can improve on the basis of these guidelines.

While a lot of different issues were brought up in feedback from students, one of the main messages was finding a middle ground so that students don't get burnt out during their clinical rotations but still receive a comprehensive education.

"Having healthy students, faculty, and staff, of course, helps with better patient care," Dulièpre said.

The guidelines were published in the January-June issue of the journal Education in the Health Professions from North Carolina State University.

See the revised version of the SAVMA duty-hour guidelines (PDF).

Related JAVMA content:

On the rise (July 01, 2013)

SAVMA heading in a new direction (May 15, 2011)