Patient and Trainee: Learning When to Step In


  • Christy L. Cummings


With advancing rank in medical training comes increased academic and clinical responsibility, including education and supervision of trainees and junior staff. When I became a senior postdoctoral fellow sub-specializing in neonatology, I assumed the role of co-attending in the neonatal intensive care unit. At that point in my training, I felt well prepared for the challenging task. I would be in charge, make decisions independently with the team, and supervise, as well as teach, the junior fellows, residents, and practitioners. In short, I would assume full responsibility for the care of the patients, their families, and the medical team. My mentor, an experienced attending, would discuss every patient with me each day, but would otherwise stand in the shadows, available for help and guidance when needed.

On the very first day, one of the smaller premature babies on our service started having difficulty breathing, and it was soon clear that she would need to have her endotracheal tube reinserted.