Patients' willingness to allow residents to learn to practice medical procedures

Acad Med. 2004 Feb;79(2):144-7. doi: 10.1097/00001888-200402000-00010.


Purpose: Consent for teaching procedures has been the focus of ethical discussion recently. Patients may consent to a procedure but be unaware that the procedure is to be performed by a resident, perhaps for the first time. In such cases, patients have not specifically consented to the practice of teaching medical procedures. The authors studied patients' awareness of resident training and willingness to allow residents to perform procedures on them.

Method: A survey was administered to a convenience sample of 202 Vanderbilt University Medical Center emergency department patients from February to April 2000. Three procedures (intubation, lumbar puncture, and sutures) were demonstrated. Patients were asked about their awareness of residents' training and willingness to allow a resident to perform the procedures for the first time versus the tenth time.

Results: In all, 60% of patients did not realize they could be the first person a resident performs a procedure on. Only 49% of the patients were completely comfortable being the first patient for sutures, 29% for intubation, and 15% for a lumbar puncture. Most patients felt they should be informed if it was the resident's first time performing procedures (66% for sutures, 69% for intubation, and 82% for lumbar puncture).

Conclusion: Not only do the majority of patients not know that they might be the first patient on whom a resident performs a procedure, more than two thirds believed they should be told if they are the first patient. Particularly for intubation and lumbar puncture, patients indicated that they would be uncomfortable being the first patient on whom these procedures were performed. These data raise ethical questions regarding physicians' obligations to inform patients about resident-performed procedures.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Clinical Competence
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Female
  • Hospitals, Teaching
  • Humans
  • Informed Consent*
  • Internship and Residency*
  • Intubation
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Patients / psychology*
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Sampling Studies
  • Spinal Puncture
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Sutures
  • Tennessee
  • Truth Disclosure*