Consent to Learn

As a first-year medical student, I spent a lot of time trying things for the first time. Very few of these “first-time” events were procedures, but I anticipate a day in which it will be necessary for me to perform something more advanced like my first set of sutures or my first biopsy. While simulation is incredibly valuable, performing a procedure on a patient is irreplaceable; it’s a necessary part of the medical education process. However, entrusting a completely green medical student with a task that requires some level of skill is not without risks. As we discuss the importance of informed consent, I find myself wondering to what extent revolutionizing medical culture to improve our informed consent process will impact medical education. Will patients frequently dissent to procedures when told a medical student will be taking point, or will they be more inclined to allow medical students to perform procedures while supervised if they’re familiar with the personnel that will be providing their care up front? As much as I want to learn, I also feel that it’s my responsibility to be honest with my patients about my experience. I think the way we frame the informed consent conversation when students are involved is important and can be impactful without being manipulative, but it should also always be clear that it’s perfectly acceptable for patients to decline a procedure if they’re concerned about the impact an inexperienced provider might have. I crave the opportunity to learn, but I also value the safety of my patients and the quality of their care above all else. I know these things will be in tension throughout my career, and am grateful to have already been given strong mentors to help me navigate this conflict throughout my education.

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