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What Your Doctor Is Really Thinking

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Who Should You See?

Q. How likely is it that my doctor -- versus a trainee -- will perform my surgery?

A. If your operation is taking place in a teaching hospital, it's possible a resident, who's between medical school and practice, will handle minor parts of it, such as closing an incision. But doctors are legally and ethically bound to ask for a patient's consent before letting anyone else perform a surgery they've been hired to do. If you want your doctor to handle every aspect of your operation, make that clear in advance -- or right before the procedure, if necessary. And remember to smile when you ask (that is, if you're not having gum surgery).

Q. In what situations should I ask to speak to a nurse rather than to a doctor?

A. Nurse practitioners (nurses who receive extra training in diagnosing conditions and who often dispense medication to patients) can be more competent than MDs when giving advice about wound care and postoperative healing, says Julie Karen, MD, a New York City dermatologist. Also, an experienced NP will be able to answer any questions you might have about your medical history, since she's spent more time taking down notes in your chart and calling in your prescriptions, says Dr. Savard. "Your doctor will be the one to notice unusual symptoms and make a final diagnosis, but a nurse practitioner will be aware of how you respond to therapies and drugs, in case you need to make an adjustment in your treatment," she explains.

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