Large teaching hospitals in medical centers rely on young, inexperienced doctors

The Liaison Committee on Medical Education, of the Association of American Medical Colleges and the American Medical Association, recently placed Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine on probation because of 14 different areas of concern.  

Even though Baylor's probation involves administrative, rather than patient-related care issues, the news of Baylor’s accreditation woes has brought rare attention to the training and supervision of medical students and recent graduates.

As a Texas medical malpractice attorney, I have learned through many cases that patients can receive poor care from large, well-known hospitals in urban or medical center settings. These large institutions advertise that they have world-class doctors who practice in a variety of specialties--and it is true that if you actually get treated and followed by those doctors, you will probably receive excellent care.

What these well-known, big hospitals do not talk about much, though, is that frequently most of the care provided in their facilities is provided by young doctors who are still learning to practice medicine. While the fully-trained doctors featured on the hospital billboards are supposed to supervise the new doctors still learning their medical skills, the reality is that the level of supervision is often lacking in these acclaimed medical centers. This is certainly true at the largest of all medical centers, the Texas Medical Center, in Houston, where patient loads are astounding.

The Texas Medical Center includes hospitals like Ben Taub General Hospital, Memorial Hermann, Houston Methodist, St. Luke’s, Texas Children’s, M.D. Anderson, and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center. 

All of these prominent hospitals are “teaching hospitals,” which means that a lot of the physician care is provided by doctors who are still in training, and the patients are their lessons. While all of us have a lot to learn at the beginning of our careers, if young doctors are not properly supervised, there can be life and death consequences.

Teaching hospitals have apprenticeship-type training programs, called residencies, for brand-new medical school graduates. In these residencies, young doctors are trained to be specialists in a variety of areas like family practice, internal medicine, pediatrics, neurology or surgery.

Some hospitals have their own in-house residency programs. Others affiliate with medical schools like Baylor College of Medicine, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston or others.

Experienced health care providers at these hospitals often call residents “baby doctors.” It is not meant as an insult, but rather to reflect that these baby doctors are still “learning the ropes.”

Many people do not realize that when they go to a prominent facility in the Texas Medical Center, like Memorial Hermann Hospital, Memorial Hermann Children’s Hospital or Houston Methodist Hospital, these baby doctor residents will provide the majority of the doctor care that they will receive on a daily basis.

Whoever is sponsoring the residency program (either the hospital itself or a medical school) is supposed to assign fully-trained doctors, called attending physicians, to supervise the residents. But I have seen many cases where the level of supervision was lacking, and the young, inexperienced doctors made mistakes that caused needless permanent injuries or deaths, from missed infections, brain injuries, labor and delivery or birth injuries—you name it.

There are some ways that you can protect yourself and those you care about. 

First, if you are at a medical center or teaching hospital, be sure to pay attention to the paperwork that the hospital staff asks you to sign. There should be a consent form, like this one from The Methodist Hospital from a recent case I handled, seeking your written authorization to allow medical students and residents to participate in your care. You do not have to sign this and can insist on having only fully-trained doctors involved in your care.

Second, if you have medical students and residents involved  in your care but have questions or are dissatisfied, tell your nurse that you would like to speak to or see an attending physician (the fully-trained supervising doctor) immediately.

If you or someone you care for has been injured because of poor care provided by young, inexperienced doctors still in training, call the medical malpractice attorneys at Painter Law Firm, at 281-580-8800, for a complimentary discussion about your potential case. 

Robert Painter
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Robert Painter

Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm Medical Malpractice Attorneys in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits all over Texas. Contact him for a free consultation and strategy session by calling 281-580-8800 or emailing him right now.