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Residents in surgical training are safe for patients

Residents are medical school graduates who are going through additional training in a specialized area, including surgery. Considering the extra effort needed to guide and train students and the potential for error, it may be an assumption that this creates additional risk for patients. According to new research, having a surgeon-in-training or a resident participating in an operation does not increase the risk of surgical complications.

While past studies have raised concerns that having a resident in the surgical room creates room for mistakes, new research suggests that a resident present in surgery does not impact the potential for harm. According to the data, patients in Denver, Colorado and nationwide can feel at least as safe when a surgical resident is present.

Analysts considered data from 60,000 surgeries conducted in the United States between 2005 and 2007, finding that fewer than 6 percent of patients suffered a complication such as bleeding or a serious infection when a resident was involved in the surgery. The rate of incidents for surgical harm was the same when no residents participated.

Medical malpractice claims will often involve an injury or death resulting from surgical error. An error could be caused by inexperience, recklessness, negligence, or even intentional misconduct. The report indicates that training residents does not  impact the risk of harm in operations.

There was, however, a slight increase in the rate of superficial infection when residents were involved. This could be because the procedures take slightly longer with residents present, increasing the potential exposure to infection.

It is no surprise that the experience level of the leading surgeon does impact the well-being of a patient and the ultimate outcome of a surgery. Patients also fare better at larger medical centers. Experienced surgeons at large hospitals are often the same ones with residents on the team, which could explain level of precision and positive results.

Source: Reuters, "Having a trainee surgeon in operations is safe: study," Amy Norton, August 16, 2012.

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