Original Article

Journal of General Internal Medicine

, Volume 23, Issue 5, pp 607-610

First online:

Patients Do not Know the Level of Training of Their Doctors Because Doctors Do not Tell Them

  • Sally A. SantenAffiliated withDepartment of Higher Education Leadership, Policy Organization, Vanderbilt Peabody CollegeOffice for Teaching and Learning in Medicine, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine Email author 
  • , Tricia S. RotterAffiliated withDepartment of Emergency Medicine, Brown Medical SchoolKaiser Sunnyside Hospital
  • , Robin R. HemphillAffiliated withHealthcare Solutions Group, Vanderbilt University Medical Center

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Although patients should know the level of training of the physician providing their care in teaching hospitals, many do not.


The objective of this study is to determine whether the manner by which physicians introduce themselves to patients is associated with patients’ misperception of the level of training of their physician.


This was an observational study of 100 patient–physician interactions in a teaching emergency department.

Measurements and Main Results

Residents introduced themselves as a doctor 82% of the time but identified themselves as a resident only 7% of the time. While attending physicians introduced themselves as a “doctor” 64% of the time, only 6% identified themselves as the supervising physician. Patients felt it was very important to know their physicians’ level of training, but most did not.


Physicians in our sample were rarely specific about their level of training and role in patient care when introducing themselves to patients. This lack of communication may contribute to patients’ lack of knowledge regarding who is caring for them in a teaching hospital.


physician–patient relations graduate medical education teaching hospitals