Black Clouds: Work Load, Sleep, and Resident Reputation

Robert R. Tanz*, Joel Charrow

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


Objective. —Although it is assumed that residents in a specific training program will have comparable experiences, residents commonly perceive that some have consistently more difficult times on call. Such residents in our program are said to have “black clouds.” We sought to determine if these perceptions were related to differences in real work load. Methods. —We collected data about the on-call experiences of our first-year pediatric residents (PL-1s) for 358 days (1355 on-call experiences) during the 1984-1985 academic year. Every PL-1 (n=19) reported the following data the morning after each night on call: hours of sleep, number of admissions, total number of patients, number of deaths, number of transfers to the pediatric intensive care unit, number of delivery room trips, and a subjective assessment of work load, using a three-point scale. The reputation of each house officer was determined by asking all residents in the program (PL-1s, PL-2s, and PL-3s) to rate each other three times during the year regarding how hard they worked on call. Results. —There were significant differences among PL-1 s in how difficult they perceived their work load to be and in how much they slept (P<.001 using analysis of variance). However, actual work load (as measured by the number of either admissions or patients) did not vary significantly among the residents. There was a strong negative association between self-perception of worrik load and hours of sleep (r=−.75; 95% confidence interval, −0.73 to −0.76). Sleep was the major predictor of perceived work load (multiple R2=.563 using multiple linear regression analysis). The absence of an association between perceived and actual work load is attributed to large differences in the residents' working styles. This is evidenced by a wide range of correlations among PL-1s between the number of admissions and hours of sleep (range of r values, −.66 to −.16). A reputation for difficult on-call experiences was strongly associated with few hours of sleep (r=−.77; 95% confidence interval, −0.49 to −0.91), but not with actual work load measured by the number of admissions, patients, deaths, or other variables. Sleep was the major predictor of reputation (multiple R2=.567 using multiple linear regresssion analysis). Conclusions. —Some residents did have a black cloud; they slept less, perceived that they worked harder than average, and had a reputation for having difficult on-call experiences. Residents with a black cloud function differently from their colleagues; for example, some may be inefficient, while others may create extra work for themselves. Residency program directors must recognize these functional differences to effectively evaluate and counsel house officers. AJDC. 1993;147:579-584)

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)579-584
Number of pages6
JournalAmerican Journal of Diseases of Children
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1993

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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