3 ways to effectively use medical students in the emergency room

Emergency room doctor physician stethoscope scrubs Getty/gordonsaunders
Hospitals that overcome the hurdles of adding medical students to the ER will reap rewards, according to an emergency doc. Image: Getty/gordonsaunders

There are positives and negatives to adding medical students to the rotation in the emergency department, but using them effectively can pay off for both providers and trainees.

Some hospitals may find that medical students in the ER can negatively impact patient satisfaction and flow because they need close supervision. But organizations can reduce those issues with a little hard work, wrote Michael Silverman, M.D., the chairman of emergency medicine at the Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington, in a column published in MedPage Today.

Students will learn valuable care lessons, he said, and the organization will find the students may open new recruitment channels. 

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To successfully integrate trainees into the ER, he suggests organizations:

  • Have new students conduct histories and physicals for patients that have already met with an emergency physician. Even a brief interaction with the physician gives patient the chance to consent for the student to provide treatment and those patients are then more open to interacting with trainees, according to Silverman.
  • Keep the type of facility in mind when developing a plan for using medical students. For example, teaching hospitals are used to working with students but community hospitals may find the extra time needed to work with students difficult to manage. 
  • Consider how receptive staff doctors are to teaching and use that as a metric to pair medical students with physicians. Some physicians may not be comfortable with, or could be frustrated by, the additional stress of monitoring students.

Research has shown that medical students added to emergency departments can add some time to a patient’s length of stay in the ER, but the number was statistically negligible. Bringing more trainees into the ER and cultivating recruiting pipelines will also be even more important in the future.