Is it really possible for an intern to save your life? I have lots of friends who are physicians and the joke was, never go to a teaching hospital on July 1st because the day before the interns were all medical students. Whenever you’re doing something new there’s a learning curve, but we take special notice when a new doctor is involved in our case. It’s understandable because we go to a doctor that has years of experience and then the intern comes in and your anxiety level goes up and you wonder, “Is it okay for this young, inexperienced physician to be in on my surgery?”
According to an article in the New York Times (online) this week, having an intern in on the surgery won’t kill you. In fact, the articles states that mortality rates are lower in surgeries where an intern/resident is part of the surgical team. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a free and clear situation. The article also went on to say that surgeries where an intern/resident is present takes longer and there may be higher rates for infection, but mortality rates are lower. Why might that be?
I’ve been thinking about it and I can come up with a couple of assumptions. When there’s an intern the surgery takes longer simply because the intern/resident hasn’t done the procedure as many times as the physician. Of course they’re nervous and are going at a slower pace so as not to make any mistakes. In addition, they are probably asking questions of the attending physician slowing down the pace a bit, but this is a teaching moment for the intern/resident so that should be expected. As far as infection rates being higher, that’s most likely just the new doctors learning better infection control procedures…that one is addressed immediately.
So why do you think that mortality rates are lower when an intern/resident is present for the surgery? I believe it’s because they have as the Buddhists say, “A Beginner’s Mind”. They aren’t anticipating the next step and therefore they are focused on the here and now. They are asking questions and may see things the attending physician, who may have done this surgery hundreds of times, simply overlooks because they are anticipating the next step. The intern/resident brings the pace down so if there are complications they can be addressed during the surgery, not in the recovery room.
Having a fresh pair of eyes present can mean the difference between life and death…yours. So don’t worry if an intern/resident is part of the surgical team. In fact, encourage them to ask lots of questions, even if it seems insignificant because that’s how they learn and that’s how you’ll avoid post-surgical complications. A Beginner’s Mind is good not only as a spiritual practice, but as a work ethic because it keeps you fresh, unassuming, and more inquisitive. The questions could be the answer to your life and death issues.