Tag: Residents

Fighting Compassion Fatigue

Six months down. Six to go. I am officially halfway through what people have told me will be one of the most challenging years of my life.  I’ve rotated through Cardiology, Primary Care, Gastroenterology, General Medicine, Psychiatry, Palliative Medicine, the Medical Intensive Care Unit (MICU), and Rheumatology. Finally I have reached every resident’s favorite rotation – vacation.

Intern year has been hard work, but I’ve enjoyed it and am extremely pleased with the experience my Internal Medicine program has provided. Each rotation has taught me a tremendous amount and helped me grow as a physician, but the most profound impact occurred during my back-to-back rotation in Palliative Medicine and the MICU. Last August, Atul Gawande wrote an insightful essay titled “Letting Go” in The New Yorker. He vividly illustrates the different mindsets for treating patients in palliative medicine compared with doing so in the ICU. He discusses the lost art of dying and how palliative medicine can help us regain that art. I was fortunate to have witnessed this sharp contrast by working in palliative medicine immediately followed by working in the MICU for a month.

The sights and sounds while walking through the halls of our Palliative Medicine floor are unique. One moment, I might walk past the “Caring K-9” dog, and the next moment I might hear peaceful sounds from a talented violinist as I walk by a patient’s room. As Gawande mentioned, the goal in palliative medicine is comfort, and any measure that may enhance comfort is fair game. Contrast that experience to the ICU, where I might arrive to work at 5 a.m. and by 5:01 a.m. might be doing compressions in attempt to restart a stopped heart. No morning coffee to settle in, no dogs roaming the hall, no violinists. It is intense and unpredictable in the ICU.  Generally the goal is the keep the patient alive at all costs.

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Petitioners Ask OSHA to Regulate Resident Physician Work Hours

On September 2, Assistant Secretary David Michaels for Occupational Safety and Health received a petition requesting that OSHA regulate resident physician and subspecialty resident physicians.  “Depending on the type of residency, physicians-in-training can work anywhere from 60 to 100 or more hours a week, sometimes without a day off for two weeks or more.”  The petition requests that OSHA exercise the authority granted under §3(8) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act to implement the following federal work-hour standard:

(1)   A limit of 80 hours of work in each and every week, without averaging;

(2)   A limit of 16 consecutive hours worked in one shift for all resident physicians and subspecialty resident physicians;

(3)   At least one 24-hour period of time off work per week and one 48-hour period of time off work per month for a total of five days off work per month, without averaging;

(4)   In-hospital on-call frequency no more than once every three nights, no averaging;

(5)   A minimum of at least 10 hours off work after a day shift, and a minimum of 12 hours off after a night shift;

(6)   A maximum of four consecutive night shifts with a minimum of 48 hours off after a sequence of three or four night shifts.

More information about the petition can be found at the Public Citizen-run website, reading…

And The Best Job In Academic Medicine Goes To…

With all due respect to the Pentagon, humankind has not invented a more complex organization than the modern academic medical center. The combination of high tech and high touch, the Byzantine regulations, the toxic medico-legal environment, the extraordinary pace of change…. Well, you get the idea.

But the most daunting challenges stem from trying to satisfy the AMC’s tripartite mission: providing high-quality, safe, patient-centric, and efficient clinical care across a spectrum of services; training the next generation of physicians and other caregivers; and performing cutting-edge research and innovation. Think about blending the missions of Target, Apple, Yale, and Nordstrom, and you’ll have a sense of the problem.

Unfortunately, the typical management structure of academic medical centers makes running this monstrosity even more difficult. The vast majority of AMCs are actually two (if not more) organizations blended (sort of) into one: a school/university, and a clinical delivery system. This structure arose through happenstance, and the fault lines it creates are increasingly jagged.Continue reading…

What Most Patients Don’t Know About the Residents Who Care For Them

Summary: Most hospital patients have no idea that the resident treating them could be coming to the end of a 30-hour shift. If he is exhausted, the resident’s judgment may be impaired. Yesterday, the union that represents some 13,000  residents and interns nationwide (CIRSEIU),  the American Medical Student Association (AMSA)  Public Citizen, the consumer advocacy organization based in Washington DC, as well as sleep scientists at the Harvard Medical School’s Division of Sleep, announced the results of survey published in BMC Medicine, revealing how little the public knows about residents’ hours.

Sleep deprivation is likely to lead to errors; residents themselves acknowledge that lack of sleep has caused them to make mistakes that harm, and sometimes even kill patients.  Exhaustion also affects how they feel about their patients. In 2008, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommended capping shifts at 16 hours, saying that longer shifts are unsafe for patients and residents themselves. The Accreditation Council on Graduate Medical Education (ACGME), the group that oversees the training of physicians in the U.S currently allows resident physicians to work for 30 consecutive hours up to twice per week.  The ACGME has been reviewing the IOM recommendations and is expected to announce its decision later this month.

The problem: residents represent cheap labor. Some say that the ACGME faces an inherent conflict of interest because its board is dominated by the trade associations for hospitals, doctors and medical schools that benefit from the residents’ long hours. Is this true?

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Tweaking Medical Education to Leverage EHRs

Tweaking Medical Education to Leverage EHRs



Author’s Note:The purpose of this 5-part series is to make the case for implementing a widespread, systematic approach to HIT education in medical schools and continuing medical education programs for physicians. Previous posts reviewed challenges posed by the HIT Deluge and the Impact of EHRs on Medical Education.

EHRs have begun an inevitable march into the lives of all physicians. The US government has established an ambitious plan for their deployment, and providers seem both eager to comply and anxious to avoid financial penalties associated with not doing so.

But as described in Part II of this series, EHRs can have deleterious effects on the education of medical students and residents. These include disrupting interactive sessions involving educators and trainees and complicating patient-physician communication.

Jay Morrow and Alison Dobbie of Texas Southwestern Medical Center argue that much of this negative impact derives from a mistaken perception that EHRs are a health care delivery method rather than a medium through which physicians deliver care. It follows from this argument that the quality-improving, cost-reducing benefits of EHRs can only be realized if multiple systems and user-based factors are aligned to optimize utilization of the new medium.

Medical educators can begin the alignment process by developing answers these 3 questions:

When Should EHR Education Begin?
Arguably, the process should begin as early as possible. Since the 1970s, medical curricula have included non-science oriented courses such as “Introduction to the Patient,” “Communication Skills” and the like. These courses present ideal opportunities to introduce the new medium.

Students in such courses should be taught to navigate through and use basic EHR functions such as order entry, lab look-up, messaging and charting. Ideally, this exposure should occur outside the clinical setting so trainees can focus on mastering the EHR interface itself. At this time, it should be possible to identify those in need of extra help with keyboard skills, and to provide assistance as necessary.

Keyboarding skills should not be assumed, even for the current generation of physician-trainees. In a 2007 focus group of first-year students at Texas Southwestern for example, 62% of the participants expressed concerns about such skills, and many claimed to have better texting than typing abilities.

If students master keyboarding and EHR navigation skills before starting their clinical rotations, they can focus the latter time on traditional learning exercises, such as clinical reasoning, diagnosis, acquiring medical procedure skills and interacting with ancillary caregivers and patients.

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Impact of EHRs on Medical Education



Author’s Note: This the second of a 5-part series whose purpose it is to make the case for implementing a widespread, systematic approach to HIT education in medical schools and continuing medical education programs for physicians. A previous post reviewed challenges posed by the HIT Deluge.

Countries around the world are racing to digitize patient medical records. In the US for example, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act allocated $21 billion to an incentive program designed to encourage the “meaningful use” of such systems.

The Federal government’s largesse is based on the premise that EHRs will improve the quality of care and reduce its costs, but the move will impact the health care system in many other ways as well. One area sure to be impacted is the education and training process for new physicians.

What kind of impact can we expect? In some ways, EHRs appear to enhance medical education, but there are as many or more instances in which the impact appears to be negative. Thankfully, careful planning can mitigate most of the collateral damage, a topic to be covered in this series’ next installment. For now, we’ll settle for a review of the good, the bad and the ugly.

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