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Food & Health

July 9, 2014

No practicing on patients: New docs get boot camp

CHICAGO (AP) — First-day jitters come with any new job but when the work involves pushing needles into strangers’ bellies, stitching up gaping wounds or even delivering babies, that debut can be especially nerve-wracking — for everyone involved.

Brand-new doctors often launch right into patient care within weeks of graduating from medical school. To make sure their skills are up to snuff, many medical schools and hospitals run crash courses in the basics for these new interns.

It’s called boot camp at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and its adjoining Feinberg medical school, a program involving two to three days of intense practice before letting the newbies loose on patients. Young doctors are tested on a variety of skills, from the proper technique for handling newborns during childbirth — make sure the head comes out slowly — to delivering bad news — use empathy, eye contact and listen to the patient.

More than 90 percent pass the first time. The rest are tested again until they do.

“Don’t do that on Mr. Smith,” instructor Dr. Jeffrey Barsuk told this year’s batch of residents, warning them not to withdraw too much fluid from the belly of a mannequin patient supposedly sick with liver disease. Barsuk was showing the group how to insert a scary-looking 5-inch needle and remove abnormal fluid buildup. Taking too much can be dangerous for sick patients.

Dr. Diane Wayne, the medical school’s vice dean of education, created the program in 2011, aiming partly to combat the so-called “July effect.” Many experts say it’s more myth than reality, and evidence is mixed, but a few studies have found lapses in patient care — even deaths — when new interns start making rounds in July.

“We have great residents who come from all over the country, but we have no reliable way of knowing that these interns possess these skills,” she said. “We just don’t want to subject patients to newly minted residents” with uncertain expertise.

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