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Do Doctors Learn at the Expense of Patient Safety?

By Paul da Costa on August 21, 2014


As in any profession, the only way to learn the job is through practice and hands-on experience.  There is no exception for the medical field.  Doctors and nurses learn how to treat patients not only through classroom instruction, but also through hands-on practice.  For patients, this can be a scary thought.  Very few people would put their well-being, and sometimes their lives, in the hands of a doctor who has never before performed a necessary procedure or is relatively inexperienced.

As was recently reported by the New York Times, the medical field is constantly balancing the need to keep patients safe and the need to provide new doctors and surgeons with valuable experience.  While studies have reported that surgeon’s results improve for 4 years after they begin practicing, there is a first time for every surgeon at one point, and more than likely, at many points.  One surgeon explained how in one case, he had to teach a first-year fellow to complete a particular cardiology procedure.  Upon entering the room, the patient immediately questioned whether he was being “practiced on.”  The more experienced doctor lied, overstating the first-year’s experience.  The doctor went on to explain the procedure to the first-year, pretending the entire time that he was explaining the procedure to the patient. 

Another problem arises when hospitals want to utilize innovative medical techniques.  When a hospital wants to attempt a new procedure, it is given free reign to do so, as long as the hospital can prove there is a need for such a procedure among the people that it serves.  For instance, one cardiologist recounts how his hospital in Long Island, New York wanted to begin using left ventricular assist devices (LVADs) in heart patients, but had never done so before.  Meanwhile, some hospitals in Manhattan had experience doing approximately 200 or more procedures involving LVADs per year.  This example demonstrates the scary reality that patients face—that they may not always be receiving the best medical care.

It is important both for doctors to learn and for patients to remain safe when undergoing medical procedures.  Nevertheless, mistakes and bad judgment lead to patient harm in many cases.  In some cases, the mistake can be attributed to a doctor’s inexperience.  While every doctor has the right to learn through hands-on practice, that instruction should not come at the expense of a patient’s health or life. 

If you or a loved one was injured during a medical procedure because of a doctor’s inexperience or mistake, you may have a medical malpractice claim.  The experienced attorneys at Snyder & Sarno, LLC can help you assess your claim and navigate the law in order to get adequate compensation for your injuries.  Contact us today at (973) 274-5200.  

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