Staff Reporter

You're in the hospital, waiting for an exam. In walks your physician, accompanied by 15 fresh-faced Doogie Howser wannabes with stethoscopes and lab coats. Some look like the kids who play Nintendo with your kids.

Welcome to patient care at a teaching hospital, such as the one at UCLA.

After two years in medical school, students are matched up with a seasoned doctor to begin the internship process. This means following doctors on their rounds and helping diagnose patients.

Though disconcerting for some patients, many in the health care field believe this kind of care can be an asset for the seriously ill. Though young, interns are just out of two years of intensive study at medical schools. That means they've had exposure to the newest research studies and promising medical theories.

"Don't think 'Aaack! Little kids are going to be working on me!' " said David Langness, director of communications for health sciences at UCLA. "What some perceive as the biggest disadvantage about teaching hospitals is actually the biggest advantage."

Langness said all interns work directly under the supervision of a more experienced doctor. Diagnoses made by interns have to be run by this supervisor, and the older physician also has to sign off on all of the charts that measure the patient's progress.

"Look at it this way, you've got 15 different perspectives that know more sometimes than the seasoned physicians overseeing them," said Jim Lott, executive vice president of the Healthcare Association of Southern California. "You've got the best of both worlds."

Langness points out that many teaching hospitals have a strong commitment to research, an advantage that doesn't exist at other medical centers. As a result, clinical trials for new medicines are frequently held at teaching hospitals, so patients have more options for treatment if they face a serious illness.

Because of this commitment to research, high-end specialists in a particular medical discipline tend to congregate at teaching hospitals.

"Something like 80 to 85 percent of people who have won the Nobel Prize for medicine are affiliated with teaching hospitals," Langness said. "That's a pretty profound advantage. That's why celebrities and heads of state who can afford to go anywhere come here. Teaching hospitals are where care is optimized in the American health care system."

That's not to shortchange standard hospitals, Lott said, it's just that teaching hospitals have more resources at hand to provide care in extraordinary medical situations.

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