To call or not to call: a judgement of risk by pre-registration house officers

Med Educ. 2008 Sep;42(9):938-44. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2923.2008.03123.x.


Objectives: This study set out to answer the following questions. What influences a junior doctor's response to a judgement call within a clinical setting? What, if any, are the relationships between these influences?

Methods: This paper describes an interpretivist study based on a grounded theory approach to data analysis. This involved a phased approach to data collection using semi-structured interviews. Analysis was facilitated by observations and group presentations. Participants were doctors in their first year of postgraduate practice who were purposively selected from a range of hospitals in the Northern Deanery.

Results: The data demonstrated a number of influences on whether junior doctors chose to seek senior assistance. These included the upholding and balancing of tenets that were necessary for ensuring safe practice, and estimating the chance and severity of potential negative consequences to patients, themselves and their teams. In order to make these judgements, junior doctors drew on different forms of knowledge, especially knowledge gained from previous clinical experiences. In judging whether or not to contact a senior, pre-registration house officers (PRHOs) were practising essential clinical attributes, that of independent yet co-operative and discerning practitioners who are able to balance multiple considerations while ensuring patient care.

Conclusions: This particular judgement of risk, as it was described by those interviewed, was a dynamic process exemplified by the need to create counterbalances between multiple consequences. As a result, no prescriptive action could have allowed PRHOs to deal with the numerous configurations they faced and took into account.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Clinical Competence / standards*
  • Education, Medical, Graduate*
  • England
  • Humans
  • Judgment*
  • Medical Staff, Hospital / psychology
  • Medical Staff, Hospital / standards*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors