My beautiful cat Bertram, who had always been happy and healthy, was suddenly very ill and his regular veterinarian couldn’t figure out what was wrong. She referred him to the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at Virginia Tech expecting that one of the faculty would see him and evaluate his problem. Neither of us realized that the Hospital permits advanced residents to see patients without faculty supervision. This is something they don’t talk about – their website actually says “Residents and interns work closely with clinical faculty-members to provide you and your animal with an excellent health care experience.” They have admitted that they couldn’t write a press release that would make their referring veterinarians think letting residents practice unsupervised is a good idea.
The resident who saw Bertram didn’t pay attention to the information his regular veterinarian sent about him. The resident decided that he had pancreatitis, not an infection, and she discontinued the two antibiotics his regular vet had prescribed. No one was checking her work, so her conclusion went unchallenged.
Bertram continued to get sicker and sicker, and I took him back to the Teaching Hospital several times. On one visit, he was seen by a resident who had just started the program and couldn’t answer my questions – and the faculty member who was supervising her wouldn’t talk with me because “Everything has to go through the residents.” There is no evidence that he did anything other than sign off on her notes.
A few days later, Bertram died in the intensive care unit of the Teaching Hospital – this time cared for by an intern and a resident, still with no faculty involved. I asked for an autopsy, and learned that he died not of pancreatitis, but of a ruptured pulmonary abscess! The first resident who saw him said he didn’t have an infection (which is what his primary veterinarian was concerned about) and no one else ever questioned her conclusion.
I asked for a review of what went wrong. The review done by outside experts (four board certified veterinarians not affiliated with the Teaching Hospital) was very critical of Bertram’s care and made recommendations for changes, but the internal review made excuses. And when it became clear that I actually expected the Teaching Hospital to admit its mistakes and change its practices, the VA Tech legal department told the head of the Teaching Hospital to stop talking with me.
There is nothing more I can do to prevent this from happening to someone else. Please help future patients by signing this petition to tell the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at Virginia Tech that they are more than a training program – they are also a specialty referral center. Their patients deserve the attention of the faculty, at every visit, and on every day of inpatient care. Residents are there to learn, and they aren’t ready to handle complicated referrals on their own.
I am signing this petition to tell you I think your practice of letting residents practice with little or no supervision is wrong. It isn’t good patient care, and it isn’t consistent with what you promise.
The website for the Teaching Hospital appeals to the love and concern people have for their animals, saying “many animals are referred to our hospital as they have challenging ailments that require the best of what modern veterinary medicine can offer” and “Their (the faculty’s) expertise assures the best possible results for your animals.” The same page also says “Residents and interns work closely with clinical faculty-members to provide you and your animal with an excellent health care experience.” It is dishonest to promote your program in this way, and then let residents practice independently without telling either the pet owners or the referring veterinarians what you are doing.
Pet owners and referring veterinarians expect the Teaching Hospital to be more than a training program; they expect it to also function as a specialty referral center, and to put the needs of patients first. Otherwise, who would take their animals there?
Please change your policy and assure that faculty are actively involved in every case, on every visit, and on every day of an inpatient stay. Residents are there to learn, and they aren’t ready to handle complicated referrals on their own.