Many individuals have operations performed at university hospitals, whether they plan their surgery with that in mind or not. All hospitals associated with a university are teaching hospitals. The majorit of medical care you receive at a teaching hospital will be provided by nurses and nursing students, as well as physicians and medical students.
When a person undergoes a surgical operation at a teaching hospital they can expect to have excellent surgeons. The head surgeons, called the attending physicians, on your medical team are often actively engaged in research on the cutting edge of the surgical frontier.
However, a patient should expect to spend a very small amount of time with their attending surgeon. During the vast majority of their hospital stay, most individuals will have their care managed by doctors that are still in training. These include fellows, residents, interns, and medical students.
A medical student on a surgical team is in their 3rd or 4th year of medical school. They will receive a medical degree (MD) at the end of their four years in med school. At many hospitals, medical students are recognizable by their short white coats. Some hospitals disallow the white coat because they carry bacteria, viruses and fungi. In this case, the medical students may be indistinguishable from physicians except for their ID badge.
An intern is someone who has graduated medical school and is an MD in their first year of training in the specialty that they have chosen to pursue. After surgery, much of your care will be managed by the intern. Intern doctors write medication orders and perform required post-op procedures among a myriad of other responsibilities. This may be making future surgery patients (and future interns) nervous. However, keep in mind that every aspect of an intern’s work is double checked by upper level physicians.
A resident is an MD who is past their first year of specialty training but has not yet completed their training. They watch over the interns and med students and may have their own patients depending on how busy the service is. If they are elected to be chief resident they may also be responsible for further educating the medical students and interns.
Last but not least, a fellow is someone who has completed their residency specialty but has elected to undergo further training in an even more specialized area of medicine. Fellows may have gone directly into a fellowship following residency or may have been in practice as a physician for many years before deciding to further specialize.
If you are planning to undergo surgery at a teaching hospital, you should expect to have a large team of individuals visit you each morning and sometimes in the afternoons as well. Keep in mind that you have the right to ask that a medical student or nursing student not be allowed to participate in your operation or post-operative care. The medical or nursing student will not be insulted, though they may be disappointed to miss out on a learning opportunity. In the end, whether you have an operation at a university hospital or community hospital, the entire experience should be about providing the best patient care possible.