Excessive Drinking Affects Surgeons' Abilities

April 19, 2011

Hungover surgeonSurgery, regardless of how big or small the procedure, can be extremely nerve-racking. So how would you feel if you knew your surgeon had been drinking excessively the night before? According to Health.com a new study suggests that surgeons who have had a night of drinking make more mistakes and are less efficient in the operating room the next day, even when alcohol is no longer in their system.

Researchers conducted two different studies to examine the effects of excessive drinking among surgeons. In one study, eight expert surgeons were taken to a dinner party where they were instructed to drink until they felt intoxicated. The next day, the surgeons were to perform laparoscopic surgery using a virtual reality program that is used for training. The Los Angeles Times noted that the researchers chose laparoscopic procedures because they place high demands on a surgeon's "cognitive, perceptual, and visuospatial abilities".

Surgeons were instructed to do a virtual procedure at 9 a.m., 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. In all instances, their surgical skills were compromised, with the 1 p.m. procedure being the worst.

In the second study, 16 college science students with beginner laparoscopic skills were separated into a control group that did not drink and another group that was asked to drink until they were drunk. According to HealthDay, the group that drank had more errors than the group that didn't, though there was no significant difference between the groups' scores.

While these results may not be surprising to many, HealthDay pointed out that there is currently no rule requiring surgeons to abstain from alcohol the night before operating. The Los Angeles Times noted that more research needs to be done as this study was too small to enforce new policies. Still, many say it's clear that heavy drinking can hamper a surgeon's performance.

"Surgeons and medicine need to have a discussion about the implications of these results. But one thing is clear: they should not be drinking excessively the night before operating," said Tony Gallagher, author of the study and a professor of human factors at the School of Medicine at University College Cork, in HealthDay.

Compiled by CityTownInfo.com Staff


"Drinking Hampers Surgeons' Next-Day Performance," news.health.com, April 18, 2011, Anne Harding

"Even without a hangover, a surgeon's skills suffer after a night of heaving drinking, study finds," LATimes.com, April 18, 2011, Karen Kaplan

"Hungover Surgeons Make More Mistakes: Study," consumer.healthday.com, April 18, 2011, Amanda Gardner

"Persistent Next-Day Effects of Excessive Alcohol Consumption on Laparoscopic Surgical Performance," archsurg.ama-assn.org, April 2011, Anthony G. Gallagher, PhD; Emily Boyle, MRCS; Paul Toner, PhD; Paul C. Neary, MD; Dana K. Andersen, MD, PhD; Richard M. Satava, MD; Neal E. Seymour, MD

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