It may well be known how the USA medical residency system works by Japanese residents because of the wide-spread American influence in Japan. However, I am certain that little is know about the UK medical residency system which I will endeavour to unveil in this article.
It may be best to explain the infrastructure of the system to see how it related to the residency system.
Basically, in a usual district hospital there are 10 medical teams which are usually Cardiology, Respiratory, Gastroenterology, Diabetes and Elderly Care medicine who although have their own speciality, they also practise General Internal Medicine and therefore see all medical problems.
Each respective team will usually have a first year doctor, and more senior doctor who may be anywhere from a second year to a fourth year doctor. There will also be a Registrar doctor who will be sometimes assigned to two teams within the same speciality thereby covering four doctors below him/her. These days, the number of Registrar level doctors has increased and therefore, it is likely that a Registrar will cover only one team. Each team has its own consultant who will also have a respective speciality and who also practises general medicine.
Each team will look after around 20-30 patients and the work will be split between the first year doctor and more senior doctor or they will see all the patients together. This thereby allows all the patients to be seen usually in a morning and all the jobs are carried out by the afternoon. If a patient gets sick then one doctor is available, usually the senior, to sort it out whilst the junior continues to see the other ward patients.
The Registrar is a more Senior doctor who is in training to become a Specialist consultant. The Registrars are usually engaged in a combination of Outpatient clinics and Ward work and hence, if patients are sick they are usually called upon to resolve matters especially if the less senior or junior doctors cannot solve the problem.
If all else fails, the Registrar may defer to the team consultant who has responsibility to try and resolve the problems.
Hence, there is an upward chain of command whereby the ultimate responsibility for all the patients lies with the consultant of the team. It is therefore in the consultant's best interest to know what is going on with the inpatients and this is done by twice weekly ward rounds in most cases.
The UK ward rounds involve the whole team seeing all the inpatients whereby the consultant can be updated on recent tests and blood results, but more importantly new history and physical changes. This is a great opportunity to learn as all the junior members of the team (everyone else lower than consultant level) have a chance to learn if they have been doing things correctly and get feedback from the consultant. This is also a safety mechanism for the patient as they will be seen by an experienced physician who will take more history and examine them and review drugs, interactions and start or stop such drugs. They will also make further plans and decide on discharge. Such an interaction between junior doctors, the consultant and the patient is a great opportunity for learning about history taking and physical examination but it also provides skills on how to manage inpatient problems, multi-organ system problems and how to decide on when to call the more senior doctor and when to discharge the patient.
Doctors do not stay in the hospital after 5:00pm if their work is finished. They are able to go home and rest--- or study !
If they are on-call, as a team, they will also admit ALL new medical patients referred from community GPs, other hospitals (transfers) and the outpatient clinic plus Emergency Room (Accident and Emergency [A&E]). Thus, all patients are admitted under the care of a single consultant on-call and that may be anywhere from 10 to 30 or 40 patients in a 24 hour period.
The on-call team work from 9am to 9pm and then go home. A night team who work for a week of nights take over from 9pm to 9am.
On the morning of the next day, the team do a Post-Take ward round to see all the new patients. Again, history and physical are reviewed by the consultant providing a great learning opportunity for the Residents. This is a legal requirement for all patients to be seen within 24 hours by a consultant when admitted to the hospital. This provides great training in emergency medicine.
On-call varies and may be once in a week or may involve a week of nights or a whole weekend, but no on-call session lasts more than 12 hours.
Why is this important? Well a fatigued doctor makes mistakes. A recent lecture given by Dr Landrigan in August 2007 at the National Institute of Health gives an indepth explanation of fatigue in doctors and increased chances of making medical errors and driving accidents after doing long on-calls and with sleep deprivation [ http://videocast.nih.gov/ram/ccgr082907.ram ]
Hence, the UK system having implemented the famous Working Time Directive has stopped most doctors working more than 56 hours per week.
I for one who worked under this system felt fatigued working 12 hours straight when on-call and was relieved to be able to get a good night [or day] sleep after on-call. I also worked under the old system which meant a full 24 hours on call or 72 hour weekend (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) without much sleep and hence, I know the acute differences that the Working Time Directive implemented and I am sure that it caused a reduction in the frequency of mistakes within the hospitals throughout the UK.
In the USA, some hospitals are trying hard to reduce doctors hours but they are by no means in line with the standards currently employed in the UK system.
In summary, the UK system has many doctors per team with a chain of command upwards when a less experienced doctor does not know what to do, which incorporates multiple checks and balances for the patient to try and avoid accidents and misdiagnoses. The consultant has a responsibility to see all new patients and all the inpatients, the latter, several times during a working week. Residents never work more than 12 hours at a time unless under exceptional circumstances and hence, it is hoped that this will reduce mistakes by doctors.
Resident educational is somewhat informal as it takes place during ward rounds and post-take ward rounds, but there are also educational sessions carried out by all the consultants on an ongoing rota once a week to teach specific topics. Moreover, the Registrars also do training sessions for the junior doctors and medical students.
Grand rounds take place weekly as do journal clubs. Other training for higher exams the doctors usually do Self-Directed Learning and they may also go on training courses. Registrars also go on specific training courses. For advanced exams (MRCP) the consultants and Registrars will usually rotate on a training scheme whereby they will take the senior doctors to a patient and ask them to examine a body system. They will then provide their advice and constructive criticism on how the doctor can improve their examination skills in order to pass this high-level exam.
The MRCP exam concentrates on history and physical examination with little emphasis on scans such as CT or MRI.
All training sessions take place at lunchtime in most hospitals with food provided.
Moreover, I have never seen a UK doctor fall asleep in any meeting.
In summary, I think that the UK system is comfortable for working in but also for having free time as well; the so-called Work-Life Separation. Doctors do not need to remain in the hospital out of hours as any problem is handled by the on-call team for that time, and that includes speaking with relatives.
There is an upward chain of responsibility by every member of the team and a very good but informal way of training the junior doctors on frequent wards rounds at the bedside plus formal teaching sessions.
Training focuses on the patient and not on interpreting radiological scans.
This is a different system to that found in Japan and such a system may be somewhat of a surprise to you.
Have a nice holiday :-)