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What every Patient should Know - "The Doctor said he was a Resident"

Posted by attorney James Girards

In hospitals associated with medical schools or residency programs, each patient will frequently encounter a doctor who states (or should state) that he or she is a "Resident." What does that mean and what are the implications for your care?

A "resident" physician is a "physician-in-training" who has completed medical school and is participating in the next level of medical education. The Resident will be participating in a specialty medical service, that may last from 1 to 4 years, depending on the medical specialty.

Some of the factors that come into play in graduate medical education include issues such as appropriate supervision, limited knowledge-base or experience and work-load. It is due in part to these issues that Resident-provided medical care has an increased incidence of preventable patient injury and death than care provided by experienced physicians.

In an article entitled,Graduate Medical Education and Patient Safety: A Busy—and Occasionally Hazardous—Intersection by Kaveh G. Shojania, MD; Kathlyn E. Fletcher, MD, MA; and Sanjay Saint, MD, MPH, the authors discussed these very issues in the context of their example case of a woman who died needlessly in a hospital due in part to a Resident's mistakes. Their findings were: "a forgotten task, suboptimal supervision, failure to call for help, and large individual workloads coalesced to contribute to a patient’s death. If even 1 of these issues had been handled optimally, the outcome might have been different." The authors stated, "[t]he importance of this case lies in the potential for improvement—improved sign-out systems, better communication practices, and training models that balance effective supervision with direct clinical service and also maintain trainee autonomy. Such improvements will not only benefit today’s patients but will probably benefit generations of patients to come through the multiplier effect of the supervisor–trainee relationship."

Additional resources provided by the author

If you or a loved one has suffered a severe injury or death as a result of medical mistakes, please contact for more information.

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