What is a Teaching Hospital?

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A teaching hospital differs from others in that it undertakes to train student doctors and so in most places in the wards and clinics, there will be students present. In most cases, the patient can refuse to have a student in the room during an examination, but usually they understand that the best way to learn is by experience and so don’t refuse. The standard of care in a teaching hospital is often considered to be superior to that in others without students as they attract the very best of teaching staff. This is not necessarily the case, but it has to be acknowledged that teaching hospitals are often better funded and are certainly more likely to be at the very cutting edge of technological knowledge.

Teaching hospitals are found in most large towns and are connected with either a university offering medicine or a dedicated medical school. The students in the hospital may be attending for their whole course or might be there on secondment because the hospital concerned is a centre of excellence in a particular discipline which is not offered in their home school; urology, perhaps or even a specific branch of oncology. When choosing a medical school, it is important to check out the teaching hospitals where you might be doing your practical hands-on work, to make sure it offers what you want, or you may find that you will have to study elsewhere for a while.

As a patient you may not have a choice as to whether you attend a teaching hospital or not, but if you find that you have students clustered around the end of your bed, don’t be intimidated. They are there to learn and by having so many bright people talking through your case you will probably find that it is considered in more depth than might be the case if all you see is an over-worked registrar trying to get through the list on his own. Don’t be put off by the idea of a teaching hospital if your only experience of them is from the television – teaching hospitals are definitely not like Sacred Heart from Scrubs!

Some hospitals may teach just one discipline, especially if they have recently upgraded their facilities and in these cases the patients may remain unaware of the hospital’s teaching status if they are there for other reasons. Typically, the discipline is something quite separate from others, such as obstetrics, gynaecology or dentistry and in these cases the student body will change regularly as the different cohorts move on. In cases such as these, the hospital may take on more challenging cases. This is for two main reasons; firstly, this is so that the students will get a range of conditions to study and secondly it will be because it is more than likely that the quality of the consultant level doctors is particularly high, attracted there by the chance to teach the next generation of medical practitioners.

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