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Open Access Research article

A systematic review of the effects of residency training on patient outcomes

Renée M van der Leeuw1*, Kiki MJMH Lombarts1, Onyebuchi A Arah23 and Maas Jan Heineman4

Author Affiliations

1 Professional Performance Research Group, Department of Quality Management and Process Innovation, Academic Medical Center, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

2 Department of Epidemiology, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), Los Angeles, California, USA

3 UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, Los Angeles, California, USA

4 Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Academic Medical Center, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

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BMC Medicine 2012, 10:65  doi:10.1186/1741-7015-10-65

Published: 28 June 2012

Abstract

Background

Residents are vital to the clinical workforce of today and tomorrow. Although in training to become specialists, they also provide much of the daily patient care. Residency training aims to prepare residents to provide a high quality of care. It is essential to assess the patient outcome aspects of residency training, to evaluate the effect or impact of global investments made in training programs. Therefore, we conducted a systematic review to evaluate the effects of relevant aspects of residency training on patient outcomes.

Methods

The literature was searched from December 2004 to February 2011 using MEDLINE, Cochrane, Embase and the Education Resources Information Center databases with terms related to residency training and (post) graduate medical education and patient outcomes, including mortality, morbidity, complications, length of stay and patient satisfaction. Included studies evaluated the impact of residency training on patient outcomes.

Results

Ninety-seven articles were included from 182 full-text articles of the initial 2,001 hits. All studies were of average or good quality and the majority had an observational study design. Ninety-six studies provided insight into the effect of 'the level of experience of residents' on patient outcomes during residency training. Within these studies, the start of the academic year was not without risk (five out of 19 studies), but individual progression of residents (seven studies) as well as progression through residency training (nine out of 10 studies) had a positive effect on patient outcomes. Compared with faculty, residents' care resulted mostly in similar patient outcomes when dedicated supervision and additional operation time were arranged for (34 out of 43 studies). After new, modified or improved training programs, patient outcomes remained unchanged or improved (16 out of 17 studies). Only one study focused on physicians' prior training site when assessing the quality of patient care. In this study, training programs were ranked by complication rates of their graduates, thus linking patient outcomes back to where physicians were trained.

Conclusions

The majority of studies included in this systematic review drew attention to the fact that patient care appears safe and of equal quality when delivered by residents. A minority of results pointed to some negative patient outcomes from the involvement of residents. Adequate supervision, room for extra operation time, and evaluation of and attention to the individual competence of residents throughout residency training could positively serve patient outcomes. Limited evidence is available on the effect of residency training on later practice. Both qualitative and quantitative research designs are needed to clarify which aspects of residency training best prepare doctors to deliver high quality care.