Medical Students Have To Learn Sometime

[The dude in this picture is just a random guy I googled, not the real patient talked about in this post]

Another medical student and I were hanging around the emergency room at a small town hospital the other day.  The weather had been particularly nice that day and a man decided to fix some of the gutters and siding on his home.  So he climbed up his ladder and started working, but his guardian angel must have taken a coffee break and his ladder broke.  The man fell 15 or so feet down to the concrete, and was transported by ambulance to the ER.

Unfortunately this man had a large laceration across his forehead, and another long his arm.  Lucky for us medical students, this man had two large lacerations that required stitches.  For story completeness – this guy was completely stable and had absolutely no life-threatening injuries.  The lacerations were the only injuries he sustained as a result of his fall.

The doctor working in the ER with us decided this was a great opportunity for us to practice our suturing skills, and so the doctor told the other medical student and I to come over “and assist him with stitching up.”  The man’s wife did not like the sound of that at all, and she asked if the students would be allowed to put in the actual stitches.  The doctor told her that we would, under his close supervision.  The wife wasn’t convinced that this would be ok.  So she asked if there was ANY way that the doctor could call in another physician to help “assist” with the stitches.  He said that the other doctors were too busy to be called in for this, and the medical students were available and have had plenty of training in this type of procedure.  The man’s wife told the doctor that she really didn’t want students practicing on her husband, and the doctor reassured her that we have had lots of training and that medical students can do this.

It felt weird to be in the middle of that disagreement.  On the one hand, I completely understand the wife’s concern of having medical students essentially “practice” on her husband.  Yes we’ve had 6 years of post high school training, but in all honesty probably less than 5 hours of suture only training at this point.  But on the other hand, us medical students need to practice on someone.  If you only had the most experienced people do the job every time, then how would you train the next generation?  Also, if I completely mess up and a suture falls out, then we can always put another in or just let it heal without the missing stitch.  It won’t make a big difference.  I also understand that the wife may not have known that this was a fairly low risk procedure on the grand scale of things, and so I can understand where she’s coming from.

Yes we have to learn sometime.  If everyone says no to medical students, then there will never be an experienced group of physicians.