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J Hosp Med. 2014 Mar;9(3):169-75. doi: 10.1002/jhm.2150. Epub 2014 Jan 20.

How do supervising physicians decide to entrust residents with unsupervised tasks? A qualitative analysis.

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Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, California.



Medical supervisors struggle to find meaningful ways to evaluate the preparedness of trainees to independently perform patient care tasks. The aim of this study was to describe the factors that influence how attending and resident physician perceptions of trust impact decision making.


Internal medicine residents and attending physicians at a tertiary academic medical center were interviewed during a single academic year. Participants were asked to describe, using the critical incident technique, entrustment decisions made during their clinical rotations. A deductive qualitative analysis using the entrustable professional activities framework was used. The inter-rater reliability was calculated using a generalized kappa statistic.


Eighty-four percent (46/50) of residents and 88% (44/50) of attending physicians participated. The analysis yielded 535 discrete mentions of entrusting factors that were mapped to the following domains deductively, with inductively derived subthemes: trainee factors (eg, confidence, specialty plans), supervisor factors (eg, approachability), task factors (eg, situational characteristics) and systems factors (eg, workload). The inter-rater kappa between the 2 raters was 0.84.


Factors influencing trust in a trainee are related to the supervisor, trainee, their relationship, task, and the environment. Attending physicians note early interactions and language cues as markers of trustworthiness. Attending physicians reported using perceived confidence as a gauge of the trainee's true ability and comfort. Attendings noted trainee absences, even those that comply with regulation, negatively affected willingness to entrust. Future studies are needed to develop better assessment instruments to understand how entrustment decisions for independent practice are made.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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