study examines danger posed by having residents assist with surgery

The prospect of having major surgery is unnerving. In fact, this discomfort can understandably increase if you learn that a surgical resident will be taking part in your procedure. After all, they are relatively inexperienced and you don’t want to become another victim of medical malpractice.

However, is this really a realistic concern? In particular, are procedures involving surgical residents — meaning medical school graduates receiving training in a specialty — really more likely to result in serious complications or death?

While some studies have suggested that this is indeed the case, a group of researchers at the Cleveland Clinic weren’t so sure and decided to conduct their own investigation into the matter.

What did they discover?

After examining data on over 60,000 surgeries performed at U.S. hospitals from 2005 to 2007, the researchers concluded that patients undergoing a surgical procedure with a resident assisting are not at an elevated risk of suffering serious complications or death.

In fact, the researchers found that the risk of patients suffering serious complications — infection, bleeding, etc. — in surgeries involving a resident was slightly below six percent, the exact same rate for surgeries conducted without residents present.

Similarly, the researchers determined that the risk of patient death in surgeries involving a resident was .18 percent, while the risk of patient death in surgeries without residents present was .2 percent.

“This shows that resident participation is safe,” said Dr. Ravi Kiran, the primary author of the report, which was published in Annals of Surgery.

While the results of this study may be seen as encouraging, it is important to remember that physicians of all skill levels — from the newest resident to the chief of staff — can still make mistakes and that these mistakes are especially devastating if they are made during surgery. For those who have seen firsthand the damage medical negligence can do, data suggesting residents may be no more likely than experienced surgeons to commit serious errors is hardly comforting.

If you believe you have been the victim of medical malpractice or a surgical error, consider talking to a legal professional to discuss your options. You may not be able to undo the damage, but you can seek the justice you deserve.

Source: Reuters, “Having a trainee surgeon in operations is safe: study,” Amy Norton, Aug. 15, 2012

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