Med students inadequately supervised? Suits likely

Inadequate supervision is the main legal risk involving physicians working with medical students, according to Jonathan M. Fanaroff, MD, JD, associate professor of pediatrics at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and co-director of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital, both in Cleveland, OH.

“Teaching the next generation of physicians is an important and rewarding responsibility of current physicians,” he says. “However, medical students are just that: students.” The supervising physician is generally legally responsible for the medical care provided by medical students, underscores Fanaroff. He gives these risk-reducing strategies:

• Whenever a medical student is learning to perform a procedure, there should be direct supervision.

For example, a medical student might perform a lumbar puncture and fail to use sterile technique. “If an infection subsequently developed, the supervising physician may be held liable,” says Fanaroff.

• Orders written by a medical student should be reviewed and signed prior to their implementation.

“A medical student may order a contraindicated medication, which is then given to the patient before the supervising physician has a chance to change the order,” says Fanaroff.

• Medical students should always wear identification, and it should be clear to patients that they are interacting with a student.

“Patients have the right to know who they are talking to, and without clear identification, may think they are talking with a physician, not a student,” says Fanaroff. “A lack of informed consent claim may be filed against the supervising physician.”


For more information on liability risks involving medical students, contact:

  • Jonathan M. Fanaroff, MD, JD, Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Cleveland, OH. Phone: (216) 844-3387. Fax: (216) 844-3380. Email: