Purpose: To assess patients' understanding of levels of training and responsibilities for residents, medical students, and attendings in the emergency department as well as their degree of comfort in being cared for by a physician-in-training.
Method: In 1999, a questionnaire was administered to a convenience sample of 430 adult patients and family members in a university emergency department. The questionnaire asked for demographic information and contained 17 questions addressing the different levels of medical training and seven opinion-based questions on patients' willingness to have physicians-in-training care for them.
Results: Respondents answered 65% of the knowledge-based questions about physicians' training correctly. Only 43% understood that residents are always supervised when caring for patients, and 30% thought attendings required supervision by a resident. Respondents with education greater than a high school diploma answered more questions correctly (71% versus 59%; p <.05). A total of 80% felt it was very important to know their physician's level of training, but only 58% reported actually knowing the level of training. Only 62% felt comfortable knowing that their physician might be a supervised physician-in-training. In addition, despite the fact that this survey took place at a teaching hospital, 22% of respondents prefer not to be treated in a teaching hospital.
Conclusions: Patients and their families do not fully understand the roles and responsibilities of the physicians-in-training that may be caring for them despite feeling it is important to know their physicians' level of training.