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J Grad Med Educ. 2012 Sep;4(3):340-5. doi: 10.4300/JGME-D-11-00175.1.

"Page Me if You Need Me": The Hidden Curriculum of Attending-Resident Communication.



Discrepancies exist between what resident and attending physicians perceive as adequate supervision. We documented current practices in a university-based, categoric, internal medicine residency to characterize these discrepancies and the types of mixed messages that are communicated to residents, as well as to assess their potential effect on resident supervision and patient safety.


We surveyed residents and attending physicians separately about their current attitudes and behaviors regarding resident supervision. Both groups responded to 2 different measures of resident supervision: (1) 6 clinical vignettes that involved patient safety concerns, and (2) 9 frequently reported phrases communicated by attending physicians to residents before leaving the hospital during on-call admission days.


There were clear and substantial differences between the perceptions of resident and attending physicians about when the supervising attending physician should be notified in each of the 6 vignettes. For example, 85% of attending physicians reported they wanted to be notified of an unexpected pneumothorax that required chest tube placement, but only 31% of resident physicians said they would call their attending physician during those circumstances. Common phrases, such as "page me if you need me," resulted in approximately 50% of residents reporting they would "rarely" or "never" call and another 41% reporting they would only "sometimes" call their attending physicians.


Our study found that attending physicians reported they would want more frequent communication and closer supervision than routinely perceived by resident physicians. Although this discrepancy exists, commonly used phrases, such as "page me if you need me," rarely resulted in a change in resident behavior, and attending physicians appeared to be aware of the ineffectiveness of these statements. These mixed messages may increase the difficulty of balancing the dual goals of appropriate attending supervision and progressive independence during residency training.

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