What Type of “Graduated Responsibility” Do We Need in Order to Gain Competency?

Building on the brief historical piece I wrote last week about the progression toward “competency-based” resident training and the ultimate outcome of evaluation by the Milestones, I’d like to ask, “How can residents achieve competency in training?”

A resident recently stated at the most recent CAP Residents Forum that true graduated responsibility means to be able to verify a case, whether surgical pathology or frozen section, and I would guess clinical pathology results were implied, without the oversight of an attending. As a PGY-2, I am not sure I can agree with that statement. But who knows, maybe closer to graduation, I might. How many of us would be a Milestones rating of “4” by the end of our funded 3 or 4 years, and therefore, competent enough to theoretically verify a case on our own?

I would like to repeat some statistics from the 2013 ASCP Fellowship and Job Market Surveys: only 16% of residents felt they were ready to sign out general pathology cases upon graduation and 95% intended to seek fellowship positions. 59% of PGY-3 and PGY-4 felt that they needed fellowship training to feel confident in general pathology and 17% to address a perceived educational deficiency. So, if this is a true, then the majority of us may not feel comfortable verifying general pathology cases, with the possibility of malpractice, even as a PGY-4.

Even though I cannot verify cases, I still feel that my program has given me the opportunity for graduated responsibility. For instance, I began to enter my diagnoses into our electronic surgical pathology reports before the end of my first month of training. Then during sign out, my attending would teach me as well as correct my diagnosis prior to verification. As I mentioned before, I learn by doing and even more so by being wrong, than by reading or being lectured to so this works for me. I have the safety net of being allowed to be a trainee while applying and improving my developing surgical pathology skills. And for me, being able to verify or not, would not change how I approach my cases or my diagnoses.

Our PGY-2 and above, are encouraged to work up a case (eg, order stains, etc) prior to sign out at our academic and VA hospitals (not sure about the community hospitals since I haven’t rotated at them yet), even if it is not our names that go on the final “dotted line.” We don’t all reach this point at the same time – it is about trust in our knowledge and skills by our attending and our initiative to broach the subject before we can do so. At the start of my PGY-2, I was ordering flow cytometry panels on cases because my attending trusted my hematopathology skills.

So, for me, at least for now, “graduated” responsibility is in the eye of the beholder and I have been nurtured to be where I need to be at this point in my training. I feel that I have the freedom to grow under our system. So, what does “graduated responsibility” mean at your institution? Let me know by leaving a comment.

-Betty Chung

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