Every July , there is a new class of first time doctors starting their residency at every hospital in the country. Residents are thrown into the fray and expected to act like doctors and make medical decisions. They are overseen by attendings, who are second or third year residents. The attendings are supervised by the hospitalist or specialist. Residents are assigned different areas of the hospital and rotate, sometimes monthly, to different services.
The first year resident is the doctor a patient meets on admission. They do the initial assessment and then follow up with the attending. The July residents, although having graduated medical school with clinical experience, have not been in the position to make decisions independently. Yet, July rolls around and the newbies are put on the floors and given the responsibility of patients.
What also happens is many experienced doctors and professional staff go on vacation. This leaves the residents without the best supervision and a limited medical staff. This results in an increase in medical errors from diagnosis to interpreting lab and radiology results. There is a 10% increase in medication errors as indicated in a study from the July issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine.
The best advise is to avoid hospitals in July, if possible. If it can’t be avoided, ask questions, get answers and have an advocate before agreeing to any treatment. If you are given a catastrophic diagnosis, question it. Ask to have the lab work rerun and get a second opinion of any radiological results from the radiologist not the resident. If a new medication is prescribed, ask to speak with the hospitalist or specialist. Ask for written information on the drug, explanations of why you need it and what are the side effects. Make sure when the nurse gives you the medication, it is the same as the doctor prescribed for you.
Remember, you have rights as a patient. You can question your treatment, ask for a patient advocate and be involved in your care. The residents want the experience and learn but you want what is best for you.