Starting in July 2011, first-year residents will work shorter shifts under more supervision, according to new standards adopted by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME).

For the 111,000 new doctors being trained at U.S. hospitals, the new rule was put in place with the hopes of improving patient safety and reducing medical errors caused by junior doctors working extremely long hours.

While residents will still have a duty hour limit of 80 hours per week, averaged over a   four-week period, duty periods for first-year residents have been cut from 24 hours to 16  hours, and “strategic napping” is strongly recommended. In addition, not only will these students have a direct supervisor available at all times, but they will be required to address issues on  recognizing when they are sleep deprived. The maximum shift length remains 24 hours for  residents in their second year of training and beyond.

“We tried to balance the opportunity for residents to learn how to be excellent doctors, while keeping patients as safe as they should be,” said Meredith Riebschleger, MD, pediatric  rheumatology fellow at the University of Michigan and member of the ACGME Duty Hours  Task Force. “I think we’ve come up with something that does both protect the patient and  protect the ability of the residents to be educated and I think both of those things can be done at the same time without necessarily giving up anything on the other side.”