A few days ago, I overheard a conversation at work. One of the other medical students was speaking to my research mentor’s secretary, and the gist of the conversation, to which both the medical student and the secretary seemed to agree, was this: “I try to avoid going to teaching hospitals for my medical care because I don’t want medical students and residents to ‘practice’ on me.”
I’m not going to pretend that medical students, residents, and other trainees know what they’re doing, and I acknowledge that people have the right to choose who takes care of them. I concede that health is an important thing, and that it shouldn’t be entrusted to just anyone; healthcare isn’t something to be toyed with or taken lightly. Even still, this sentiment doesn’t quite sit right with me, especially coming from someone who is, herself, a medical student.
First of all, teaching hospitals (especially those at major academic medical centers) tend to be at the bleeding edge of medical technology and to offer the most advanced techniques and therapies available. These are places that worry a great deal about their reputations and have the resources to attract the most prestigious, most top-of-their-game staff members. This is why the rich and famous tend to seek out these academic teaching hospitals for the various surgeries and other procedures that they may need.
Secondly, while there will be trainees running around who will have some responsibility in your care, nothing is done without the oversight of a full-fledged attending physician. It’s true that medical students or residents may be given the opportunity to “practice” on the patients, but the attendings will do their best not to put you in any real danger. In fact, many patients volunteer for trainees to practice simple procedures on them (for example, drawing blood or taking a blood pressure), because they want to give back to society for the wonderful care they’ve received. Furthermore, with so many trainees around, there will be more people looking at and talking about your case. Attendings are human, too, and sometimes they miss things just like everyone else. At a teaching hospital, medical students and residents are around and can potentially catch their attendings’ mistakes.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, you’re a medical student! You’re going to be poking and prodding and practicing on hundreds of patients before you feel like you know what you’re doing! How can you expect other people to allow you to practice on them, when you’re not even willing to have it done to you?