Learners as teachers: the conflicting roles of medical residents

J Gen Intern Med. 1995 Nov;10(11):615-23. doi: 10.1007/BF02602745.


Objective: To explore the impact of internal medicine residents' roles as learners, teachers, and physicians on their performance in teaching and supervising interns; to generate insights for educational policy and research.

Design: Qualitative analysis of in-depth, semistructured, recorded interviews with a cohort of second-postgraduate-year (PGY-2) residents. Questions elicited their accounts of differences in the learning process between the first and second residency years, their responses to situations in which they lacked sufficient clinical knowledge, their views of their supervisory relationship with interns, and their assessments of changes in their role in patient care since their internships. Transcripts were independently analyzed by the interdisciplinary team of authors.

Setting: New York University/Bellevue Hospital Center's internal medicine residency (New York City), a highly competitive program in a major public hospital and a university medical center, emphasizing housestaff autonomy and self-reliance.

Participants: A cohort of 18 of 21 medical residents at Bellevue Hospital Center during the last rotation of PGY-2.

Results: Intense conflicts confound residents' roles as teachers. These conflicts fall into three categories: 1) as learners, residents' own needs frequently coincide with those of interns in ways that may undermine their teaching--they are expected to nurture others despite their own considerable needs for emotional support, teach material that they barely grasp, and exert authority while feeling ignorant; 2) as team leaders, residents must ensure that interns get the hospital's work done, sometimes at the expense of teaching them; and 3) as clinicians, residents' first priority is to address the medical needs of patients--the learning needs of interns are secondary.

Conclusion: Second-year internal medicine residents experience conflicts inherent in their simultaneous commitment to learning, teaching, and service that may undermine both their effectiveness in supervising interns and their own professional development. Potential remedies are to restructure residency programs so as to equip residents with training and support for their role as teachers, reduce the tension between training and service by delegating tasks to nonphysician personnel, and provide graded responsibility to housestaff as physicians and teachers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Clinical Competence
  • Cohort Studies
  • Humans
  • Internal Medicine*
  • Internship and Residency*
  • Interprofessional Relations*
  • New York
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Social Dominance
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Teaching / methods*