Who’s Liable When a Medical Student Makes a Mistake?
Medical science is a field rife with potential for error. Georgia is home to one of the leading teaching hospitals, Emory, but negligence can happen anywhere. Intensive study and practice requirements are in place to make sure those responsible for human lives and wellbeing are well prepared for the tasks at hand. Long shifts and other issues can impair med students, which can lead to further injury and later lawsuits.
However, fully trained medical professionals are not the only ones likely to make mistakes. To earn their degrees, medical students must also complete hundreds of hours of hands-on experience in addition to their traditional classwork. While medical schools take steps to prepare students for actual patient interaction, the lack of practical experience can still lead to errors.
Determining liability can become a tricky process when a medical student is involved in medical malpractice.
Most hospitals in the United States take on students and interns to provide them with the necessary practical experience. While at these hospitals, medical students observe procedures, receive additional instruction, and oversee patients and injuries. They can even participate in certain procedures, depending on the hospital’s guidelines and the student’s skill level.
Usually, a supervising physician oversees checking a student’s procedures and signing off on any medications and treatments the student prescribes. Because the supervising physician’s duty is to ensure proper care by the student, the supervisor may become the at-fault party for any errors on the part of the student.
Likewise, hospitals are often responsible for any actions and treatments taken in their facilities, and thus are liable for malpractice and errors. This is more likely when students and residents are part of the hospital staff for the duration of their training.
Teaching hospitals often experience high turnover rates as students cycle through their required clinical hours and different specialties. This can lead to a constantly shifting staff containing students of different skill levels. Proper monitoring is necessary to prevent potential errors.
In most medical malpractice cases against students, negligent supervision is the basis of the claim. Beyond just supervising students, a doctor also has his or her own cases. If a doctor prioritizes his or her individual work over keeping regular observation of his or her trainees, errors can occur.
Because medical students are still in training and not fully licensed medical professionals, a court will less likely deem them as liable for their medical errors. Through vicarious liability, the fault of an accident will instead fall on a student’s supervising doctor or the hospital the student was studying at.
When the Student Should Be Part of the Lawsuit
Involving a student in a medical malpractice case can become damaging to his or her career. The student may have difficulty finding work if a major lawsuit is associated with his or her name, and he or she may gain a negative reputation. With these factors at play, it may be questionable if including the student in the lawsuit is necessary given that the supervising doctor or hospital will be liable for the accident.
However, some cases may require the student’s name to help the procedures:
- Adding the student as a party to the lawsuit can help with discovery.
- If the student moves out of state, having the student party to the lawsuit will give the plaintiff access and make sure the student arrives to trial.
- As a party, the student can provide opinions regarding the event.
Specific cases can have different needs and outcomes. A victim may sue the medical student, but the supervising doctor or hospital will most likely be the liable party. In a personal injury case, an attorney can provide needed guidance in determining liability and knowing when to include a student as party to the case.
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