Residents in Training Can Be Held to the Standard of Care of a “General Practitioner”

By Michael Zerres

Case Concerned Oral and Maxillofacial and Surgical Residents

In the November 15, 2006 decision of Clark v. University Hospital-UMDNJ, a New Jersey Appellate Court held that two resident physicians, one training to be a oral and maxillofacial surgeon and the other a general surgeon, could be held to the standard of care of an “average physician practicing his or her profession as a general practitioner.” Both residents were found liable for the death of a patient for failing to reinsert a nasogastric tube in a hospital inpatient who subsequently aspirated stomach contents into his lung and died. Their attorney had asked that the jury be instructed that their potential liability should be limited to the ‘standard particular to the resident’ according to the level of his training at the time. However, the Appellate Court holding indicates that if a resident is performing procedures on a patient that a specialist would normally do, then they should be held to the same standard of care. What this means as a practical matter for hospitals with residency programs is that residents need to be more closely supervised by their attending physicians, so as to reduce the risk of poor outcomes to patients, and, potential hospital liability for the mistakes made by their physicians in training.

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