Background The Flexibility in Duty Hour Requirements for Surgical Trainees (FIRST) trial found no difference in patient outcomes or resident well-being between more restrictive and flexible duty hour policies. Qualitative methods are appropriate for better understanding the experience and perceptions of those affected by duty hour regulations. We conducted a pilot qualitative study on how resident duty hour regulations are perceived by general surgery program directors, surgical residents, and attending surgeons who participated in the FIRST Trial. Study Design Semi-structured qualitative interviews were pilot tested with program directors, residents, and attendings to examine initial perceptions of the standard and flexible policies implemented during the trial. The transcribed interviews were analyzed thematically using a constant comparative approach and grouped first by study arm and then by level (patient, surgeon, program, and national). Results More restrictive duty hours were perceived as creating a tension between resident personal and professional well-being. Standard Policy resulted in more transitions, which was perceived as creating vulnerable gaps in patient care. Standard Policy restrictions were seen as particularly challenging for interns and often led to inadequate preparation for promotion and encouraged a shift mentality. Conclusions In our pilot study, interviewees valued the flexibility afforded in the Flexible Policy arm, as it allowed them to maximize patient safety and educational attainment. Additional qualitative research will expand on program director, resident, and attending perceptions of resident duty hours as well as perceptions of patient safety. Qualitative methods can contribute to the national debate on resident duty hours.
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