Graduate medical education and patient safety: a busy--and occasionally hazardous--intersection

Ann Intern Med. 2006 Oct 17;145(8):592-8. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-145-8-200610170-00008.


A patient admitted to a teaching hospital with a mild episode of acute pancreatitis initially improved, but then her condition deteriorated and she subsequently died. The initial deterioration probably reflected bowel obstruction, as shown on an abdominal radiograph that an on-call intern forgot to review. This diagnostic delay was compounded by poor communication that resulted in a medical student inserting a feeding tube--rather than a nasogastric tube--to decompress the bowel, followed by failure to recognize how ill the patient had become. The case highlights the hazards of patient handoffs as well as the importance of clear communication techniques and knowing when to ask for help. The discussion also shows the vicious circle that results when attending physicians fail to provide effective supervision: Not only is safety compromised but trainees lose the experience of being supervised. Consequently, trainees have no models of effective supervision on which to draw when they become supervisors. They then fall into the same trap as those who taught them, busying themselves with direct patient care and providing supervision only as time allows.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Clinical Conference
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Communication
  • Education, Medical, Graduate / standards*
  • Female
  • Hospitals, Teaching / organization & administration
  • Hospitals, Teaching / standards*
  • Humans
  • Internship and Residency / standards
  • Medical Errors*
  • Patient Care / standards*
  • Patient Care Team / organization & administration
  • Patient Care Team / standards