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A Phenomenology of Scut

Robert S. A. Hayward, MD; Rockwood Kenneth, MD, MPA; Gerry J. Sheehan, MB; and Eric B. Bass, MD, MPH
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Grant Support: In part by the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research.

Requests for Reprints: Robert S.A. Hayward, MD, Division of Internal Medicine, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Room 8042, 1830 East Monument Street, Baltimore, MD 21205.

Current Author Addresses: Drs. Hayward and Bass: Division of Internal Medicine, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, 1830 East Monument Street, Baltimore, MD 21205.

Dr. Rockwood: Division of Geriatric Medicine, Camp Hill Medical Centre, 1763 Robie Street, Halifax, Nova Scotia, B3H 3G2.

Dr. Sheehan: Division of Internal Medicine, Department of Medicine, 2F1 Walter C. Mackenzie Health Sciences Centre, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, T6G 2J7.

© 1991 American College of PhysiciansAmerican College of Physicians

Ann Intern Med. 1991;115(5):372-376. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-115-5-372
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Objective: To identify, describe, and quantify the night-call duties that residents in internal medicine call "scutwork" and to compare faculty and residents' perceptions of scutwork.

Design: Prospective, cross-sectional study.

Setting: General internal medicine training program at a university-affiliated tertiary care hospital.

Participants: Forty-eight residents who spent 3 months or more on an internal medicine teaching unit during the previous year and 41 faculty members who spent 2 months or more on one of these units.

Interventions: Postcall surveys and night-call diaries were used to analyze residents' activities, to derive a definition of scutwork, and to estimate its prevalence. Residents and faculty then completed a detailed questionnaire that included ratings of the educational value, "scut content," and residents' responsibility for 20 specific tasks.

Main Results: Eighty-three percent of residents found scutwork and education to be mutually exclusive for the 20 tasks, although 20% indicated that scutwork was an appropriate task for residents. Residents' ratings of tasks as scut varied according to the context of the task. For example, obtaining routine consent from someone else's patient was considered scutwork by 98% of residents, whereas obtaining such consent from the resident's own patient was rated as scutwork by only 52% (P < 0.01). Similarly, performing intravenous cannulation at the request of ward staff was rated as scut by 94% of residents, whereas performing cannulation at another resident's request was rated as scut by 56% (P < 0.01). Night-time admission of a patient for an elective procedure was rated as scut by 75% of residents, whereas admission of such a patient after discussion with a faculty member was labeled scut by only 44% (P < 0.01). Faculty ratings of such admissions did not show the same variation (24% for both). Faculty were more likely than residents to assess tasks as educational (50% compared with 26%, P < 0.01) but were less likely to consider tasks as scutwork (47% compared with 62%, P = 0.12) or as work that should be done by nonresidents (35% compared with 46%, P > 0.2).

Conclusions: Our results suggest that the characteristics of scutwork can be identified, that the perception of scut varies between faculty and residents, and that the context of a task often determines whether residents perceive it as scut.





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