Patients' understanding of the roles of interns, residents, and attending physicians in the emergency department

Acad Emerg Med. 1999 Apr;6(4):339-44. doi: 10.1111/j.1553-2712.1999.tb00399.x.


Objective: To assess patients' knowledge of the responsibilities and roles of physician training in the ED.

Methods: This was a prospective survey of a convenience sample of 345 adult patients and family members in an academic county ED. Thirty questions addressed the different roles, responsibilities, and hierarchies of physician levels of training. Four opinion-based questions assessed patients' willingness to have physicians-in-training care for them.

Results: 96.5% of the surveys were returned. Of the participants responding, 68% were Hispanic, 23% were non-Hispanic white, and 55% were women. Forty percent of the participants indicated that they had education greater than a high school diploma. Most participants answered fewer than 50% of the questions correctly, indicating that they did not understand the levels of physician training. Participants with higher education were more likely to know the correct answer. Seventy-nine percent of the participants believed that it is very important to know the level of training of their physicians. However, only 34% of the participants actually thought they knew the training level of their physicians when they were being treated. Twenty-nine percent of the participants did not want learning to take place on themselves by physicians-in-training.

Conclusion: Participants believe that it is important to know their physicians' level of training, but they do not understand the roles and responsibilities of physicians-intraining in the medical training system in which they receive care. In particular, patients who have less than a high school education seem to know least about this system.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Clinical Competence
  • Consultants*
  • Educational Status
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internship and Residency* / organization & administration
  • Job Description*
  • Male
  • Medical Staff, Hospital / education*
  • Medical Staff, Hospital / organization & administration
  • Physician's Role*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Students, Medical*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Texas
  • Workforce