Medical Malpractice Claims in Canada: Standard of Care for Medical Students – Anderson v. Greene

by John McKiggan

There are three things that an injured patient must prove in order to be entitled to receive compensation:

1. What is the standard of care?

2. Did the defendant fail to meet the standard of care?

3. Did the failure (if there is one) cause the patient’s injuries?

Specialists Held to Higher Standard

The Supreme Court of Canada has clearly stated that doctors who specialize in specific areas of medicine are held to a higher standard of care than doctors in a general or family practice. See for example ter Neuzen v. Korn.

As far back as 1954, the Supreme Court of Canada stated this principle clearly in Wilson v. Swanson:

What the surgeon by his ordinary engagement undertakes with the patient is that he possesses the skill, common knowledge and judgement of the generality or average of the special group or class of technicians to which he belongs and will faithfully exercise them.

What About Medical Students?

In many hospitals throughout Canada the primary medical care is provided, not by a specialist, but by medical students who are obtaining further training in their specialty. The medical students, called residents, typically spend one, two, three or four years training to become certified to practice in a particular specialized field of medicine.

Different Standards?

The question then becomes if the alleged medical malpractice was committed by a medical student/resident should the student be held to the higher standard of care of the medical specialist or the lower standard of care of the general practitioner?

Medical Student Claims Lower Standard

This is a question that was recently addressed by the Alberta Court of the Queens Bench in Anderson v. Greene. The plaintiff, Ms. Anderson, alleged she was injured as a result of negligence by two defendants, one of whom, Dr. Abdulhafid, was a fourth year resident of Foothills Medical Centre.

Dr. Abdulhafid did not want to be held to the standard of care of a specialist in obstetric and gynaecological medicine. Rather, he argued he should be “held to the standard of a fourth year resident in a five year obstetrics and gynaecology program at the University of Calgary.”

Lack of Training Doesn’t Lower Standard

Justice Erb of the Albert Court of the Queens Bench pointed out that:

While a higher degree of training and experience by the doctor may raise the applicable standard, a lack of training and experience will not lower it.

Justice Erb concluded the issue by stating:

Here, Dr. Abdulhafid as a fourth year resident in a five year program had undergone seven years of medical education in Libya where he conducted laparoscopic surgery. His testimony disclosed that by second year he had the opportunity to do part of the laparoscopic surgery by making incisions and using the trocars under supervision. On March 5, 2003, he was an experienced physician who had performed many laparoscopies, and therefore held to the standard of an obstetrician and gynaecologist.”

What Does it Mean?

The average patient in the hospital has no idea whether the people that are providing them with medical care are doctors, specialists, or medical students.

It can be unsettling to learn that the doctors who are treating you are actually medical students and you are a part of their training and education.

Good News

It is at least reassuring to know that if a medical student makes a mistake that leads to an injury, they will not be able to avoid responsibility by arguing that they should be held to a lower standard of care.

Want to Learn More?

If you want to learn more about medical malpractice claims, you need to read a copy of my book, The Consumer’s Guide to Medical Malpractice Claims in Canada: Why 98% of Canadian Medical Malpractice Victims Never Receive a Penny in Compensation.

You can contact me through this blog or call toll free in Atlantic Canada 1-888-647-7201 and we will send you a copy, free, anywhere in the Maritimes.

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