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What is a Teaching Hospital?

Med school graduates must complete a residency.
Teaching hospitals offer students a variety of specialties in which to practice their profession before obtaining a degree.
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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 05 April 2014
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A teaching hospital is an operating hospital where medical students and recently graduated doctors may complete their training. They are often but not always associated with a university, and sometimes called university hospitals. Because many of the working doctors are supervised trainees, critics suggest that teaching hospitals may be less safe than regular ones, with error due to inexperience being a higher probability. However, teaching hospitals are often extremely well-funded, and may possess better and newer technology and treatments than state or private medical facilities.

Practical experience in medical disciplines has long been a proscribed part of the learning process for doctors. As early as the 6th century, early Persian hospitals were used to teach incoming physicians and provide them with actual experience. Today, graduate-level and post-graduate physicians must spend several years training in teaching hospitals before being considered a fully qualified specialist.

In the United States, students begin working in a teaching hospital during the second half of their four-year graduate program. At this point, the students are considered interns, and are not full medical doctors. After graduating, the new doctors begin a three-year residency in their preferred fields in teaching hospitals. Usually, the first year of residency is spent as an intern to an advanced resident, learning a variety of different disciplines. After the intern year, physicians usually choose a specialty and spend several more years training in their chosen discipline.

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Other countries, such as New Zealand, have a different process of training doctors. Instead of an undergraduate, graduate and post-grad training system, medical students take a six year long program, with introduction to teaching hospitals being done in the third year. Unlike in the United States, where post-graduate doctors are matched up with teaching hospitals through a national database, New Zealanders have only two major schools that conduct medical training. Around the world, the use of training hospitals tends to vary depending on the national training programs and the availability of internships at local hospitals.

Understandably, patients may be somewhat concerned by being treated at a teaching hospital. Although in many countries the doctors allowed to practice medicine at the hospitals are already qualified physicians, they do not have the same level of experience as their fully-trained colleagues. However, interns and residents are usually heavily supervised and second-guessed by their teachers, so the care you receive may actually be more researched and considered. If you are under the care of an intern or resident and feel uncomfortable or worried, ask to speak to the senior doctor before agreeing to any suggestions or treatments.

The chaotic world of the teaching hospital has been an inescapable setting for many successful television shows. The life-and-death situation of any hospital combined with the training of young doctors has led to the creation of at least five popular shows in the United States alone. Gray’s Anatomy, Chicago Hope, House, MD, ER, and Scrubs are all set in teaching hospitals. While these shows usually have diligent researchers searching for accurate medical information and can be extremely entertaining, they should not be taken as a guideline for the level of skill and professionalism at a real-life teaching hospital.

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