Experience Connected to Prevalence of Surgical Errors

It is the same in any profession: the longer you work the more real-world skills you obtain. Learning about time pressures, unique clients, office dynamics, work-life balance, how to handle an emergency, and other issues can generally not be learned from a book. No matter how long one is forced to train and study before entering a field–from medicine and law to accounting–there is no replacement for on-the-ground training that comes with experience. Obviously this is something that society has understood since the earliest days with the use of apprenticeships and other training programs.

Most consumers also understand the value of experience. It is no wonder than many professionals, including doctors and lawyers, prominently display their years and manner of experience so that prospective clients and patients understand what they are getting.

When It Truly Matters
Obviously quality matters in all field, but there are some situations where the stakes are dramatically higher. That is most notable in the medical field. More specifically, delicate treatments like surgery are perhaps where the stakes are the highest–a patient is often incapacitated and relying solely on medical professionals to not only fix their problem but ensure they are not harmed. It is not an overstatement to say that life and death may literally be on the line.

Yet, like other professions, inexperienced physicians are more likely to make preventable errors with patients. A recent Ring of Fire story touched on that issue, noting that it is important for all medical patients to be aware of exactly who is treating them, particularly when it comes to surgeons.

Researchers have worked hard to pinpoint various factors that affect surgical outcomes. The experience of the professional leading the operation has long been known to be one of those factors. That experience combines with things like workload, physician fatigue, quality of medical equipment, and training of staff members to increase the chances that some preventable mistake will strike and cause a severe injury or even a wrongful death.

Even things as seemingly innocuous as the time of the day that the surgery is performed can impact outcomes. However, like all the others–communication, training, etc.–with awareness comes the ability to change things to take the problems into account. For example, the article reminds that “these issues can be addressed, as they are ‘system’ problems rather than unavoidable and inherent ones. Unfortunately, though, we have not yet found a way to require these system issues to be adequately addressed.”

In highlighting the severe consequences of surgeons working without experience, the article shared one tragic example. Not long ago a 59-year old patient went into the hospital for what was supposed to be a straightforward hernia operation. However, things did not go as intended, and he died during the operation. It was only later, when it was too late, that the grieving family discovered that the surgeon connected to the case was brand new. He had only been licenced shortly before and had never handled this hernia procedure before.

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